First Printing of The Star-Spangled Banner Fetches Record $325,000 at Auction, Followed by the Slave-Owning Writer's Statue Getting Toppled

  • June 21, 2020 21:16

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Francis Scott Key Monument, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
Wikipedia

A statue of Francis Scott Key, an early American lawyer known for penning "The Star-Spangled Banner," was taken down by protestors in San Francisco over the weekend during demonstrations for racial justice. Key was a wealthy slave owner who, according to The Smithsonian, defended slaveholders' rights to own human property and attacked the abolitionist movement in high-profile cases. The memorial to Key is near the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

Key's lyrics, culminating with a declaration of America as the "land of the free," were written after he glimpsed the American flag flying at the Battle of Fort McHenry signaling a victory over the British in the War of 1812. His verse became the U.S. national anthem in 1931, when Key's racist views and slave-owning backstory were further from living memory. 

Earlier in the week, the first dated printing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” achieved a total of $325,000 on Christie’s online sale platform. This rare newspaper printing was the first to appear at auction and was offered during the Christie's Classic Week series of sales, from June 2 to 19, which brought a total $13.4 million. The sale set a world auction record for a nineteenth-century newspaper.

Other statues targeted by protestors in San Francisco included a bust of Ulysses Grant, who married into a slave-owning family, but is well-known as the Union general who fought against slavery and helped end the Civil War before becoming a U.S. president. 

A bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback looming above a Native American man and an African man on each side, at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York since 1940, is coming down after years of frequent protests, reports the New York Times. The museum stated that while Roosevelt is commemorated as a "pioneering conservationist," the statue itself represents a “hierarchical composition” that should be moved from its public location.

Theodore Roosevelt statue outside the American Museum of Natural History, NY.
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