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Morgan State student documentary asks hard questions about ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’

Poem’s rarely-heard third stanza condemns African-Americans seeking freedom

Our nation’s anthem was never originally intended for African-Americans.

Duane Saunders Jr., a production associate for Legacy Media Institute and a Morgan State University alumnus, directed a 2016 documentary, What So Proudly We Hail, with students examining this statement about “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

They set out to research the history behind the third stanza of the anthem, which describes how slaves fled the American side and fought for the British Army in September 1814 at the Battle of Baltimore.

“We wanted to shed light on something that people usually don’t pay attention to, like the third verse of the national anthem. The story behind it is pretty ironic,” said Jazmine Hawes, a Morgan State student and assistant director on the documentary.

There is a scene in the film in which students around Morgan State’s campus read the third verse aloud:

“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:

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”

“We felt this topic would have a greater and more immediate impact on our community since Morgan State is located in the city. While the documentary didn’t gain recognition as fast as we projected, once the controversy centered around the nation’s anthem arrived, we already had something educational to offer the people,” said Kendra Hawkins, interviewer and camera operator for the film.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was originally a poem. Later on, it was turned into a song based on the melody of an old English drinking song.

Saunders, Hawkins and Hawes started the project in March 2016 before then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took his public stance against the national anthem in a preseason NFL game in August 2016. The 14-minute documentary was completed in May 2016.

Saunders said the process itself was difficult but rewarding.

“We chose to do this documentary because we knew it was something that everyone should know. This information was never taught to us in our history classes, and as a collective we all felt that this story would be the best tackle,” said Saunders.

“The fact that we were all in Baltimore, Maryland, and that Fort McHenry was close by inspired us to do the research and push forward to execute this project. Plus, no one has created a project based on this topic, so we were all motivated to start,” said Saunders.

Simone Benson is a multimedia journalism major at Morgan State University. She reports on food access and social justice, and recently helped produce a documentary in Havana.