Early on the morning of Wednesday, September 13, police discovered that a Baltimore monument to Francis Scott Key had been defaced.
The debate over monuments has gotten even stranger after vandals defaced a Baltimore monument to the man who wrote the United States' National Anthem, Francis Scott Key. The monument was defaced with the words "racist anthem" written in spray paint.
During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key boarded a British ship to negotiate the release of an American captive. While aboard, he heard the British plan to assault. For that reason, the British refused to allow Key to leave until the battle was over, for fear of the plans leaking to the American military. Key penned the words to the Star Spangled Banner while locked away aboard a British military vessel, watching the 25-hour bombardment on Fort McHenry. When the dust settled the following morning, Key noticed that the fort's "flag was still there," and the rest is, as they say, history.
Francis Scott Key did own slaves, as did many wealthy landowners in the early 19th Century.
At face value, the monument to the man who penned the Star Spangled Banner wouldn't appear like a target for vandals. Key was a slave owner, however the seldom-sung third verse of the National Anthem tends to draw the most ire from activists.
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 footstep's 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're the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Part of this third verse - which is rarely, if ever, sang - mentions slaves. It is believed that Key was referring slaves fighting for the British Crown against the United States.
History also remembers Key for his aggressive prosecution of a slave who was charged with trying to attack his white master. The prosecution ended up prompting what many believe to be Baltimore's first race riot in 1835. However, what is seldom mentioned is the fact that Francis Scott Key physically stood in the way of the mob and stopped them from hanging the suspect, Arthur Bowen.
City officials and Baltimore Police have pledged to keep the Francis Scott Key monument up and promised to prosecute those responsible for the vandalism.
“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to them being caught and charged,” Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith said.
Anthony McCarthy, the spokesman for the Mayor, promised that the monument would be preserved, not taken down like other Confederate monuments were in recent weeks.
“We understand the freedom of expression, but there certainly has to be a more constructive and productive way to have a conversation about history," McCarthy said in a statement.
In August, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed off on the removal of a statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney because he authored a decision (Dred Scott) that perpetuated slavery in the United States. That same month, a vandal used a sledgehammer to destroy the oldest monument to Christopher Columbus in the United States. While other statues have been criticized for their questionable connection to Maryland - a state that remained in the Union during the Civil War, Francis Scott Key is an important figure Baltimore's history.
Police are reviewing surveillance video to see if they can make out who defaced the Key monument early Wednesday morning. In 1999, the City of Baltimore invested $125,000 to renovate and restore the Francis Scott Key monument after years of neglect. Key is considered by the City of Baltimore to be a local historical hero. In 2015, the Baltimore City Council formally voted to change the city's motto to "Baltimore: Birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner."
At the time, Councilman Bill Henry explained why he believed the city's new motto would have staying power.
"No matter who the Mayor is, no matter what industries are predominant at the time, no matter how the sports teams are doing, we will always be the birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner. It's hard to say there is a larger contribution that Baltimore has made to America as a whole. It's completely appropriate that will be our slogan."