Verify: Does part of the National Anthem talk about the death of slaves?

Yes.

QUESTION:

Does the Star Spangled Banner have an extra verse referring to the killing of slaves?

ANSWER:

Yes, this is true. 

SOURCES:

Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, historians Alan Taylor, and Robin Blackburn

PROCESS:

Owners have been talking about whether players should be required to stand for the national anthem – instead of kneeling to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

Players aren’t protesting the anthem, itself.

But, should they?

There are dozens of articles online saying the Star-Spangled Banner has an extra verse that talks about the deaths of slaves.

Is it true?

We consulted the Library of Congress – which holds the real historic records and artifacts, the Smithsonian Institution and two historians with expertise on the War of 1812.

Here’s what we found.

The Library of Congress had the actual *sheet music* from when Francis Scott Key wrote the anthem during the War of 1812.

And it shows four verses.

The first verse is the one everyone sings – including at NFL football games. Skip ahead to the third verse.

That’s the one that reportedly talks about killing slaves talks about killing slaves.

Here’s the exact verse:

Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.

The Smithsonian also says Francis Scott Key was a slaveholder who believed blacks to be quote “a distinct and inferior race of people.”

Open and shut case right? Slaveowner writes a song and it includes a verse about dying slaves equals Star Spangled Bigotry.

Those historians we talked to, the ones who were experts on this time say, that’s not the whole story.

They tell us British forces recruited escaped slaves to fight against the American militia in that war, which to Key, would have made them as much of an enemy as the Brits, and could account for that part of the song.

They also point out, even though Key owned slaves, later in his life he fought to end it, serving as lawyer for many slaves fighting for freedom.

It’s that history that makes the debate over the song complicated.

No matter what the song meant 200 years ago, historians today agreed the song has come to celebrate the sacrifice of all American military heroes during the war -- black and white.

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