Washington Post hits 'controversial poet' Francis Scott Key after namesake Baltimore bridge collapses

The paper says Key is now 'at the center of renewed public attention,' revisits his 'racist views'

It didn't take long for The Washington Post to revisit the history of "controversial poet" Francis Scott Key, whose namesake bridge suffered a devastating collapse in Baltimore.

All eyes were on Charm City early Tuesday morning after a cargo ship crashed into a support beam of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Six construction workers who were on the bridge at the time are presumed dead and two were rescued from the Patapsco River. An investigation is underway. 

But roughly 24 hours later, The Post insisted Key himself was "at the center of renewed public attention" because the bridge named after him collapsed. 

"The incident has shaken Baltimore and brought Key once again to the fore," The Post wrote Wednesday.


The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after it was struck by a large cargo ship

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a major span over the Patapsco River in Baltimore, collapsed after it was struck by a large cargo ship, prompting a massive emergency response for multiple people in the water in Maryland on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Jasper Colt/USA Today)

The Post offered a biographical history lesson of Key, a lawyer famous for writing what's now known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

But as the paper noted in its previous report about Key published in 2020 following the George Floyd riots, there was an "ugly reason" why the iconic poem wasn't chosen as the national anthem for more than 100 years.


"'The Star-Spangled Banner' did not become the national anthem until more than a century after it was written because of controversy, partly over Key’s racist views," The Post wrote. "One section of the poem’s third verse, in particular, has come under scrutiny from those who say it was intended to mock or threaten African Americans who escaped slavery to join the British forces, after being promised land in exchange for their service."

The article then printed what Key had written in the third verse, which read, "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."

placeholderThe National Park Service, which The Post quotes later, says of the lyric, "It is not clear what Key intended this line to mean, and he could have been referring to the foreign troops serving with the British, or perhaps the escaped enslaved men that comprised the British Colonial Marines."
Washington Post attacks Francis Scott Key

The Washington Post labeled Francis Scott Key a "controversial poet" in its headline following the namesake bridge collapse in Baltimore.  (Fox News Digital)

"Long before Balitmore's Key Bridge… partly collapsed, the legacy of the American lawyer and poet was a source of controversy. Many have argued that he should not be celebrated because of what the National Park Service has called his ‘conflicted relationship with slavery,'" The Post told readers. 

"As The Post previously reported, Key spoke of Black people as ‘a distinct and inferior race.’ Key’s parents enslaved people on their plantation, Key himself enslaved six people, and his wife’s family were prominent enslavers in Maryland, according to the Park Service. As a lawyer, Key represented several enslavers in cases brought against enslaved people who had run away. According to the Park Service, ‘Key vehemently opposed abolition’ and helped found a group that advocated for free people of color to emigrate from the United States," the article continued. 


Author of the "Star Spangled Banner" Francis Scott Key

The Post took aim at Francis Scott Key's "racist views" and how he was a slaveowner. (Public Domain)

The paper acknowledged that "supporters" of Key point to how he defended enslaved people as a lawyer and also freed several of them, but according to the Park Service, that decision "may have been rooted in profit."

"Because of this legacy, monuments built in Key’s honor have been defaced, and calls to rename institutions named after him have grown. In 2017, the Francis Scott Key Monument in Baltimore was splashed with red paint, and phrases such as ‘Racist Anthem’ and ‘Blood on his hands’ were spray-painted on it. Last year, the Montgomery County Public Schools system, the largest in Maryland, said it would consider whether several schools named after enslavers, including Francis Scott Key Middle School, should be renamed," The Post added.

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