The Francis Scott Key Fountain at the intersection of Eutaw Place and West Lanvale Street was vandalized Sept. 13 by parties unknown.
The depiction of Key and the base at the fountain’s center were doused in red paint and the phrase “Racist Anthem” was repeatedly spray painted on it and around the fountain’s rim.
Recently, the statue honoring Francis Scott Key, author of the, “Star Spangled Banner,” was defaced with red paint and the words, “racist anthem,” scrawled at the base of the statue, which city crews have attempted to erase. Mayor Catherine Pugh said the statue will be cleaned up and remain at its location in Bolton Hill. (Photos by Sean Yoes)
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has committed to restoring and preserving the Key statue. This stands in contrast to other Baltimore monuments to White supremacists such as Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Roger B. Taney which were taken down August 16.
Additional graffiti on the pavement surrounding the fountain of the Key statue read “No refuge could save hireling or slave/From the terror of flight or gloom of the grave.”
This last passage is a verse from the often unsung and almost unknown third stanza of Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the nation’s National Anthem, which was originally written about Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.
“Francis Scott Key was a slaveholder and an outspoken defender of slavery,” Ira Berlin, Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of History, told the AFRO via email.
The verse is an open condemnation of slaves and freed Blacks taking up arms against the United States, Berlin wrote.
“Slaves were fleeing to Great Britain lines and volunteering for Great Britain service to gain their
freedom, which some did,” Berlin wrote. “In short, while he was celebrating White
American liberty, he was condemning Blacks who were trying to gain the same.”
While Berlin “sadly” teaches in Francis Scott Key Hall at Maryland, he remains, “opposed to the defacing of any public property.”
Key purchased his first slave at the turn of the 19th Century. As a lawyer, he represented both slaves and masters in court. Later in life, Key became a founding member of the American Colonization Society, an organization “committed to sending Black people, especially free black people, back to Africa or almost anyplace not in the US,” Berlin said.
When the society changed to an abolitionist policy, Key was removed from the board. He remained anti-abolition until his death, once taking a case as prosecutor of Reuben Crandall for the crime of being in possession of abolitionist literature. Key referred to it as “seditious libel.”
The statue itself has a peculiar provenance.
Key, in bronze, beholds a golden depiction of Columbia, the female personification of the New World, America and the United States. Columbia, like Uncle Sam, or the ladies Justice and Liberty, has often stood in for the collective spirit of the advancement of the American cause. During western expansion, she personified the ideology of Manifest Destiny. She has been depicted as bringing enlightenment and industry to the newly claimed territories while simultaneously driving Native Americans west and out of sight.
Columbia, like America, is named for Amerigo Vespucci, and another Italian explorer: Christopher Columbus. The latter sits amid a growing controversy over his history of hagiography and the reality that he was eager to enslave the natives of land he is credited with discovering.
An obelisk erected as “Sacred to the memory of Chris. Columbus” according to its inscription had it message obliterated August 20 in another act of vandalism.
The statue itself was sculpted by French artist Antonin Mercié in 1911. Mercié was known at the time for his statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, erected in Washington D.C. and the Robert E. Lee Monument erected in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy.