Does National Anthem and Huckleberry Finn Celebrate/Honor Slavery?

Introduction

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Some people have a problem with the line in the National Anthem  that says “No refuge could save the hireling and slave. From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave:”. Their problem is with the reference to the word slave.

Some people have a problem with the presence of the word Nigger in the book Huckleberry Finn which is a required reading at many schools somewhere between 6th and 12th grade.

The Word Slave in the National Anthem

Personally, I have no problem with the word slave as it appears in the Anthem.   Indeed, the Anthem has both historical and current elements.  For example, the first four lines are historical.  The next two lines are both historical and has current application.  Indeed, the word slave is historical in this context as it refers to persons that lived at that time which were indeed slaves.   Slavery was real and should not be written out of history less we forget and repeat it.  The song in no way glorifies slavery; but, it does state a truth of that time.

Slavery is the condition whereby a person is “owned” by another person to the extent that the “owned” person is not free to depart from the owner to seek his/her own life goals/path without interference by the owner and/or others.  Such enslavement is often based on some physical characteristic such as race, gender, tribe, etc.

There are no slaves in America today.  I have never been a slave in America; I don’t know of any one my age and younger being a slave in America and certainly not an openly one.  So that verse about slaves does not apply to me nor likely to anyone alive today or in the future.  The closest thing to slavery in America today are the similar conditions of low/inadequate wages and prison labor; but, all races suffer under those conditions albeit blacks make up a greater proportion of prison labor considering the black population in America.  But these conditions come nowhere close to the historical form of American slavery.

The last stanza of the Anthem says:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The last stanza has both historical and current application.  The word freemen applies to all blacks of today although it did not apply to most blacks at the time the song was written.  For we are no longer slaves.  We have conquered! In God we do trust!  The Flag and National Anthem represent our triumph as a nation over external evil forces.  We are free brave Americans of all races.  America is our home.  America is the home of people of all races, black and white and others.

Since the formation of the US Flag and the writing of what we know as the National Anthem, we as a nation have triumphed over the internal evil force of slavery.  The Flag and National Anthem represent our triumph as a nation over  this internal evil force of slavery.  Yet, it is true that we have much work to do to overcome the lingering effects of American Slavery; effects yet real regarding equity for Black Americans.

The Word Nigger in Huckleberry Finn

Similarly, I have no problem with the presence of the word Nigger in the book Huckleberry Finn. As I understand it, honoring slavery is not the purpose of the National Anthem song nor the book. Both represent historical events, conditions, and attitudes that existed when the song and book were written. Slavery certainly did more harm than the word Nigger; therefore, slavery is more offensive to me than the word Nigger.

I have no problem using the word Nigger in this context. After all if I use “N-Word” I will be thinking the word Nigger so it is rather intellectually dishonest and silly to use “N-Word”. Indeed, the problem is not the word Nigger but what the person using it thinks.  Therefore, my position is not to refer to anyone as Nigger nor “N-Word”.  If I am pointing out the historical use of the word I have no problem using the word Nigger.  I refuse to be childish and weak-minded regarding such matters. I refuse to buy into the hype filled with falsehoods, misrepresentations, and selfishness that pervades our land regarding such matters.

Conclusion

We should not forget the wrong or rights of the past.  We should remember the rights and be inspired by them.  We should remember the wrongs so that we can guard against repeating them or allowing them to be repeated.  Yet, we should be forgiving (Matthew 6:14-15) especially toward those who have gone on.  We should not allow their wrongs to cause us to harbor  unforgiveness, bitterness, and hatred in our hearts and minds toward them and their descendants or those of their race.

Are there people like them still around?  Yes, there is certainly a remnant but not nearly as many as there once was.  We should guard against the attitudes and actions of such persons and hold them accountable when they show their heart and mind.  Yet, we should not lump all people of a race into the same pot of evil.  To do so makes us evil like the remnant and those who came before them.  Moreover, we should be adults and not children in our responses to evil.  We should respond with truth, integrity, and balance. As the scriptures says: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11)






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