San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick's choice to sit or kneel during the national anthem in a protest of racial injustice has led some to reexamine the very origins of "The Star-Spangled Banner," our national anthem since 1931. One place to study that, in fact, is as close as Golden Gate Park.
"Why is the national anthem a staple of sporting events to begin with?" asked the New York Times, who wrote that "the song became more widespread in baseball during the heightened atmosphere in this country around the First World War."
Others point to a through-line of racism that can be seen in the anthem's lyrics itself. Those come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, a fight to wrest Canada from the British. Later set to a popular British tune, the rarely-remembered or sung third verse goes like this.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The Intercept argues that these lines, and thus the song as a whole, "literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans." During the war, the British had pledged freedom to slaves who joined their fight, and so Key "was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves," the Intercept notes, adding that, "His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself."
If you're angling to examine those lyrics some more, look no further than Golden Gate Park's music concourse (between the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum). There, along with such far-flung monuments as statues of Cervantes and Schiller, is a central statue of Francis Scott Key, which has stood since 1888 and was recently observed by very special SFist correspondent Joe Kukura writing for the blog of Stuart Schuffman.
As the website Art and Architecture SF explains: "This monument to Francis Scott Key was commissioned by San Francisco businessman James Lick, who donated $60,000 for the sculpture. Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner after witnessing the shelling of Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814. James Lick was also in Baltimore during the shelling, which is most likely the reason for the bequest." Later, the monument was renovated, which cost $140,000.