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Quarterback's protest re-ignites discussions of slavery, national anthem, researchers say

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

LAWRENCE — When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last weekend refused to stand for the national anthem, citing oppression of racial minorities, it reopened discussions of the anthem's genesis and references to slavery in the not often sung third verse.

University of Kansas researchers are available to discuss the historical context of Francis Scott Key drafting "The Star Spangled Banner" during the War of 1812 when British soldiers also came to the aid of slaves in the United States.

Shawn Alexander, associate professor of African and African-American studies and director of KU's Langston Hughes Center, can speak about history surrounding Francis Scott Key and the national anthem as well as American athletes using their platform to advance ideas of resistance and social justice. He has published an anthology of civil rights leader and journalist T. Thomas Fortune's writings. Alexander is also the author of the book "W.E.B. Du Bois: An American Intellectual and Activist," which details the famous Civil Rights leader's political advocacy.

"With Kaepernick’s recent act of resistance, the nation has once again been confronted with the fact that the origins of our county are rooted in slavery and the exploitation of human beings," Alexander said. "Many Americans did not know that Francis Scott Key’s song, written during the War of 1812, had a third verse and that the verse made reference to the death of slaves who were seeking refuge with the British. It is once again an example of how we as Americans have hidden in plain sight that we were a slaveholding nation, failing to fully come to grips with what that means and how it has affected the growth and memory of our nation."

Elizabeth MacGonagle, associate professor of history and director of the Kansas African Studies Center, is available to speak about history of the abolition of the slave trade and British involvement in the War of 1812. Her research focuses on the processes of identity formation in African and Disaporan settings. Her essay published earlier this year, "History and Memory in an African Context: A Case Study of Robben Island," examined South Africa's national memory regarding slavery and Robben Island, a site best known for imprisoning Nelson Mandela and others during apartheid.

To interview Alexander or MacGonagle, contact George Diepenbrock at 785-864-8853 or gdiepenbrock@ku.edu.