U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry made headlines last weekend when she turned her back to the American Flag and covered her face with a shirt that said “Activist Athlete” during the national anthem as she earned her spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Berry placed third in the track and field trials Saturday.
Shortly after her display, she told reporters she was “set up” by having the national anthem play while she was on the podium. Officials said the anthem was scheduled to play at 5:30pm days before and had been on the schedule.
On Monday, Berry defended her actions in an interview with the Black News Channel. “I never said that I didn’t want to go to the Olympic Games, that’s why I competed and got third and made the team” Berry said.
“I never said that I hated the country. I never said that” she added. What she claims she did say with her demonstration is, “all I said was I respect my people enough to not stand for or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people. Point blank, period.”
Amongst her specific issues is a line in “The Star-Spangled Banner” which she said alludes to catching and beating slaves. “If you know your history, you know the full song of the national anthem, the third paragraph speaks to slaves in America, our blood being slain…all over the floor” she said.
“It’s disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans. It’s obvious. There’s no question” stated Berry. National Review reports the stanza in question reads:
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 wash’d 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’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
National Review writes, “some historians believe the lyrics should be read as a threat directed at the African American slaves who defected to the British during the War of 1812 in order to attain freedom. Mark Clague, a musicologist at the University of Michigan, disagrees with that interpretation, arguing that the stanza was meant to disparage the British, not the African American slaves.”