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Rants & Reason

Hate or hope? Take your pick.

6/5/2019

Across the nation, protests draw both revulsion and respect.

Maybe fear, hate and hope are where you choose to find them.

An ample supply of all will be available with Flag Day and the Fourth of July on the calendar along with the months of caucus chaos. Even delight can lead to despair. Or we can reverse the process.

A case in point is the wonderful performance of Simon Estes and lyric soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme — singing selections from Porgy and Bess — at the
Des Moines symphony in late April.

Their performance and standing ovations, however, called to mind an uproar in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution banned African American contralto Marian Anderson from singing in their Constitution Hall in D.C.

Eleanor Roosevelt and thousands of others quit the DAR. Thanks to Mrs. FDR, Ms. Anderson sang to a crowd of 75,000 and a radio audience of millions at an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

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That was 80 years before our April symphony (and still 16 years before Ms. Anderson would finally be the first African American to perform with the New
York Metropolitan Opera).

To add to the mix, the Estes/Chandler-Eteme local triumph came only a few days after a similar episode involving a white singer. Kate Smith (1907-1986) was declared persona non grata by the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and the New
York Yankees. Her recorded singing of “God Bless America” — an inspiration to the nation in WWII — became a tradition at their games. But in late April, it was pointed out that in the 1930s she had sung a Broadway musical number with racist lyrics.

In the rush to bounce her, few noted that the same song had been sung back then by singer-actor Paul Robeson (1898-1976). He was sort of the Cassius Clay-Ali of pre-WWII — a talented African American, well-deserving of his celebrity and refusing to bow and scrape before white supremacists.

With these episodes in mind, it was short yardage to San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He hasn’t played in the National Football League for a couple of years now but did receive a $17 million settlement from the NFL in the wake of being banned from the sport for refusing to stand during the pre-game “Star Spangled Banner” ritual.

Across the nation, protests have decried the differences between what we boast of in the words of the “Star Spangled Banner” and even the “Pledge of Allegiance” and the hatred and distant hope that millions of men, women and children in our nation deal with today. The protests draw both revulsion and
respect.

Some of the contradictions:

• Star-spangled lyrics that honor “the land of the free and the home of the brave” were penned 53 years before the constitutional end of slavery and 107 years
before women had the right to vote.

• The pledge of allegiance to “one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all” was drafted in a post-Civil War time as the South lynched thousands of African Americans well into the 20th century.

• The third verse of composer Francis Scott Key’s anthem vows death to slaves who went to the British side in the Revolution in hopes of gaining freedom: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” (“Gloom of the grave” rhymes so well with an encore of “home of the brave.”) As a government prosecutor, Key sought the death penalty for mere
possession of abolitionist literature. And today people emboldened by their president still scorn civil rights advocates.

• During the NFL season before Kaepernick’s 2016 protest, it was disclosed the Department of Defense had paid more than $50 million in tax dollars for propaganda at big-time sporting events. Such flag waving was paid advertising — not, as viewers might think, tributes to men and women in uniform arranged by team owners.

• To alarm the ideological right, one person credited with drafting the pledge of allegiance in 1892 was a — gasp — SOCIALIST!, the Rev. Francis Bellamy.

Before we junk the anthem and pledge, or increase the volume from one side or the other, maybe we should recognize the words — “land of the free and the home of the brave” and a nation “indivisible with liberty and justice for all” — for what they are. Not statements of life as lived in the U.S., but dreams of our aspirations for hope and brotherhood instead of fear and hate. ♦

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and Reason column for CITYVIEW.

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