Secular sacrilege in Baltimore.
Okay. Now I’m pissed off.
Vandals have defaced the Baltimore monument in honor of Francis Scott Key, whose most famous work is known today as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and is, of course, our National Anthem.
The scumbags who vandalized the monument splashed it with red paint (which has become their oh-so-subtle trademark — “Look! It’s blood!”) and scrawled in black on the pedestal of the monument, “Racist Anthem.”
When I read this news item, I was having lunch. My friend Alicia saw the expression on my face change and asked what was wrong. I told her of the desecration. She paused for a moment, then asked, “Did this happen at night?” I said yes. She said, “Cowards.” Which is right on the money.
Actually, what was in my mind at the moment was, the phrase, “Trash, without a complete set of fully descended balls.”
You have a strong political opinion? Swell. Come out in the light of day and deface a monument while everybody can watch and, according to your self-aggrandizing delusion, applaud you. There are precedents to this type of public daring. Hookers come to mutually agreeable financial arrangements in broad daylight. Drug deals go down on the street in broad daylight. Why are you high-minded, tender-hearted models of moral purity so shy?
Now, about the “Racist Anthem” portion of this protest. It is said that the third stanza of the anthem (which none of us have ever heard sung) endorses slavery. It must. It has the word “slave” in the lyrics. Very well, let’s look at the lyrics.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.
Indulge me for a moment. I did four years of doctoral work in medieval English literature. If I could decipher Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, I can make out the meaning of an early 19th-century American poem.
The “band” who were going to unleash “the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion” on our homeland are the British. Remember, the War of 1812 was the last time America was invaded by a foreign power.
How did their blood wash out “their foul steps pollution”? Because the Americans fought back.
So who were the hirelings and slaves that could find no refuge “From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”? Again, the British, who were defeated by the Americans.
Because Key used the term “slave” does not mean that the anthem endorses slavery. It is like saying that the Bruce Springsteen lyric from “Dancing in the Dark, “This gun’s for hire,” endorses Mafia whack jobs.
As for Francis Scott Key’s track record as a slaveowner: he purchased is his first slave in 1801, by 1830 he owned seven. That same year, he freed them all. As a lawyer, he represented slaveowners who were trying to get their slaves back. I’d like to remind the monument defilers that O.J. Simpson had a whole team of lawyers who tried, successfully, to get him off from a charge of double murder. In America, even people we despise are entitled to a defense attorney. The day may come when our spray paint artists will be grateful for that peculiarity of the American legal system.
Key became an outspoken opponent of slavery, and defended in court, pro bono, slaves who had run away from their masters. This was not a way to win friends in pre-Civil War Maryland. The Cincinnati Daily Gazette reported that he became an object of derision in his hometown. “So actively hostile was he to the peculiar institution that he was called ‘The Nigger Lawyer’” wrote the Gazette’s reporter, “because he often volunteered to defend the downtrodden sons and daughters of Africa.”
To the credit of the leaders of Baltimore, they have announced they will not cave in to the hooligans. Mayor Catherine Pugh has said the monument will stay, and the city is consulting with art restoration experts regarding the best way to clean it.
As for the vandals, I am sure their “courageous” assault on white privilege was recorded by security cameras. The Brits found the train bomber in 24 hours. It is almost four days since the Key/National Anthem monument was desecrated but I have confidence in the Baltimore cops. I look forward to the day the authorities arrest the ignorant, hate-filled little swine, and a court convicts them. And at their sentencing, I hope they get a judge who is as pissed off as I am.
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of the newly released 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide.
Baltimore Heritage/Flickr-Creative Commons