Of Colin Rand Kaepernick, Robert E. Lee and Francis Scott Key, the Uncivil Civil War and More on this Day Set Aside to Honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali

Today, January 17, 2022, is a day set aside to honor two famous Americans of African descent, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali.  One wonders how Dr. King would view today’s America.  I think it is almost as different as possible from what he hoped it would be.  Ali might have been less surprised and more sanguine.  Perhaps some reality checks are in order, unpleasant reality checks for everyone involved, and I believe Colin Rand Kaepernick is a viable vehicle for such introspection.  He is a strange symbol for many concepts, a number of them incoherently inconsistent with others.  In essence, like Ali, although to a much lesser extent, he is someone who has been forced to choose between professional and financial success and his conscience.  Unlike Ali, he was not the best that ever was at his athletic endevors, he may have become a great quarterback or merely been eventually cast aside as mediocre, but cast aside he was, not by the United States government as was the case with Ali, put by the owners of the National Football League, bowing to pressure from jingoist elements in our society that worship symbols, much as fascists do, without really understanding them.  Unfortunately, that pretty much defines the disparate competing elements working to sunder us, to polarize us to lead us once again into violent civil strife as once again, families are torn asunder based on narratives that have little to do with reality. 

It is certainly not only right wing, empire loving pseudo-conservatives to blame.  For example, the claim by Cancel Culture “Woke” warriors that meritocracy is racist and sexist is a huge insult to minorities of all races, nationalities and genders.  It is amazing how blatantly unaware of their condescension those privileged pseudo liberals are.  Real liberals and real progressives know better and all we ask is that as Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped, we not be judged by anything other than our character and abilities (“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”).

Meritocracy would seem to have been what would have most benefitted Mr. Kaepernick, but meritocracy not delimited by required political correctness, a social disease that impacts autocratic infected activists in both major parties, none of whom adequately represent either the political right (denominated Paleolithic, fascist, racist and extreme or radical by its opponents in the Democratic Party) or the political left (denominated Communist, socialist and extreme or radical by its opponents in the Republican Party).  Interestingly, the sane are not necessarily found in the apathetic center or among those who identify as independent due to lack of interest, but rather, are scattered among the populist fringes, left as well as right, who realize that for a very long time, perhaps forever, we have all been manipulated, used and abused for the benefit of the very few who rule us all as though they owned the One Ring of which JRR Tolkien wrote.

Colin Rand Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco Forty-Niners of the National Football League is famous, or infamous (depending on your perspective) for refusing to honor the playing of the United States’ national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”, at the start of a professional football game in which he played.  His example was subsequently followed by other professional and university football players of African descent, and then by athletes and sympathizers of diverse races.  The related symbolic protests further polarized an already divided nation and Mr. Kaepernick has evidently been “blackballed” from playing in the National Football League, although at some point, perhaps his skill had so deteriorated that having placed him on an NFL team roster would have been a mere token gesture.

But what was Mr. Kaepernick’s point?

Apparently, the catalyst was the following line from the third stanza in the poem written by Francis Scott Key in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812, and subsequently incorporated into the tune of a British bar song that in 1931 became the national anthem of the United States: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave”.  According to British historian Robin Blackburn, the phrase referred to the many thousands of African descended slaves who flocked to the British during the War of 1812, where their status as slaves was not recognized by the British, including a number who took service with the British against their American masters in the Corps of Colonial Marines.  According to Wikipedia and other more reliable sources[1], Francis Scott Key, when he wrote those verses in 1814, was a slaveholding lawyer from an old Maryland plantation family who, thanks to that system of human bondage had grown rich and powerful.  When he wrote the poem that would, in 1931, become the national anthem proclaiming our nation “the land of the free,” Key, like the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, not only profited from slaves but harbored racist conceptions of American citizenship and human potential. Africans in America, he said, were: “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” 

While Key was composing the line “O’er the land of the free,” it is likely that black slaves were trying to reach British ships in Baltimore Harbor. They knew that they were far more likely to find freedom and liberty under the Union Jack than they were under the “Star-Spangled Banner.”  Key subsequently used his political office as the district attorney for the City of Washington from 1833 to 1840 to defend slavery, attacking the abolitionist movement in several high-profile cases.  Key sought to crack down on the free speech of abolitionists he believed were riling things up in the city and prosecuted a New York doctor living in Georgetown for possessing abolitionist pamphlets.  In the resulting case, U.S. v. Reuben Crandall, Key made national headlines by asking whether the property rights of slaveholders outweighed the free speech rights of those arguing for slavery’s abolishment, hoping to silence abolitionists who he charged wished to “associate and amalgamate with the Negro.”  Though Crandall’s offense was nothing more than possessing abolitionist literature, Key felt that abolitionists’ free speech rights were so dangerous that he sought, unsuccessfully, to have Crandall hanged.  Hmmm, that does sound quite a bit like the Democratic Party’s Cancel Culture attitude towards those who oppose compulsory vaccination during the current Covid Crisis.  Mr. Key, was, of course, a member of his era’s Democratic Party.

American history is full of irony and hypocrisy but today, none is more blatant than that engaged in today by so called “woke” pseudo progressives waving the Cancel Culture flag.  It is not surprising given the pathetic state of education in the United States.  This week a “woke” reporter ridiculed a Congressional candidate’s reference to a debate between Abraham Lincoln and former slave and civic leader Frederick Douglas asserting that “the” debate was with Illinois politician Stephen Douglas, as if there had only been one debate between the late president and anyone named Douglas.  In fact, there was a huge debate in the White House between Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas and other Black leaders (then referred to as Negroes) concerning Lincoln’s postwar plan to deport all Americans of African descent from the re-United States, Lincoln noting that it was obvious the two races could never live together.  Frederick Douglass did not agree.  Neither, much later, did Martin Luther King, Jr.  Ali’s position on the issue, may have been more complex.  Unfortunately, not many people realize that, although opposed to slavery, Abraham Lincoln was an avowed racist.  How sad that Americans of African descent today look upon him as their very own hero.

The sad reality is that almost everything taught in the United States concerning its un-civil Civil War is utterly distorted, most especially the claim that the “Union” invaded the States in Secession to “free the slaves”.  Nothing could have been further from the truth as then President Lincoln made clear in his first inaugural address when he said …. 

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that–

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

I now reiterate these sentiments, and in doing so I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause–as cheerfully to one section as to another.

There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:

No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution–to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause “shall be delivered up” their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not with nearly equal unanimity frame and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?

How in good conscience then, can the claim be made that the Civil War was initiated in order to secure freedom from the odious institution of slavery for the millions of enslaved Americans of African descent then held as property not only in the South, but throughout the United States of America?  Well, as easily as Jefferson’s claim that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ….” is held as a sacred pillar of American democracy; and as easily as the Confederate Stars and Bars are despised while the Stars and Stripes, which flew over a nation that enforced slavery not only during the Civil War but for the entire period from 1776 until 1866; and as much as the anthem “Dixie” is reviled while Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner, including the lines “No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave” are glorified.  They are useful lies used not only to maintain most Americans of African Descent in political bondage, but to assure that most of us are also subjected to sugar coated governmental tyranny.  Colin Kaepernick was apparently, less ignorant than most when, on that fateful Sunday, he elected to kneel as Mr. Key’s ditty was played before the adoring football crowd in a now ubiquitous Pentagon funded pregame ritual honoring the ongoing murder of millions by a politicized American military machine.

Mr. Kaepernick’s protest involved rare coherence amidst our current politicohistoric incoherence, although perhaps the adjective “current” is misplaced.  It is interesting to note that neither George Washington nor Thomas Jefferson nor Francis Scott Key nor any of the “founding fathers” (other than perhaps Benjamin Franklin) ever did as much for Americans of African descent as did Robert E. Lee after his surrender at Appomattox Court House, but he is the one on whom the purportedly “woke” have focused their disdain.  So, Mr. Kaepernick may certainly have had a more than valid point, assuming he is not among the myriads of Americans of African descent who support the Democratic Party: the party of the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan, the party of segregation and of the Clinton-Biden welfare and penal reform acts that have destroyed most of the current generation of American Black males.  The party that uses and abuses Americans of African descent to stay in power by doing all it can to generate anti-Black sentiment by keeping the issue of racism festering and profitably alive and holding out the worst among American Blacks (think George Floyd) rather than people like Mr. Kaepernick, Dr. King or Muhammad Ali as the persons who Americans of African descent should eulogize and emulate.

As I think today of Dr. King and Muhammad Ali, and yes, of Colin Kaepernick and even George Floyd, I grieve for the reality that Americans of African descent will never be truly free until they discard the emotional, social and political shackles that bind them to the worst among us, until they again develop real leaders, men Like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X, rather than Democratic Party overseers in the Congressional Black Caucus.  The Democratic Party is currently seeking to politically enslave Hispanics and immigrants (groups of which I am a member) the way it has way too many Blacks.  Hopefully it will not succeed.  Certainly not today’s authoritarian, antilibertarian, pro-Cancel Culture Democratic Party so alien from the party of Dennis Kucinich and James Webb and Tulsi Gabbard.

Mr. Kaepernick’s protest and his willingness to sacrifice a professional career ought to be more than merely symbolic.  Indeed, merely symbolic actions tend to delay rather than to accelerate the required changes they seek to promote.  With respect to racism and xenophobia and misogyny, change require a coming together rather than a drifting apart and those changes can neither be imposed nor legislated, they cannot be attained by fictionalizing history or by deceptive journalism, they cannot be attained by ridiculing those who need to be converted.  They can only be attained when empathy replaces apathy and when transparent, honest and competent leadership replaces the snake pit of oligarchic elites who rule and ruin us all now, whether we are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, male or female.  And that won’t happen as long as members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious and other societal groups continue to be deluded into voting as a block without holding their leaders accountable for failing to meet commitments essential to us all in attaining justice, equity, equality and a real opportunity to not only pursue but attain happiness.  It won’t happen unless we rededicate ourselves with the courage of Muhammad Ali to the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Something to seriously consider as we head father and farther away from Dr. King’s dream.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

[1] On which the following information is based.

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