The American flag and national anthem were sacred symbols of hope for pioneering black civil rights leaders who fought for racial justice.
Five months before giving his patriotic “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led marchers 54 miles from Selma, Ala., to the state capitol in Montgomery. The march helped forge the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Marchers carried a large American flag every step. Thousands carried hand-held flags.
Before reaching Montgomery, marchers planted an American flag on the side of the road in a gesture reminiscent of Iwo Jima.
Later that day, marchers stopped in the village of St. Jude on the outskirts of Montgomery. Supporters greeted them with the national anthem.
“The march began to look first like a football rally, then like a carnival and a hootenanny,” wrote journalist Renata Adler, in her famous 1965 “Letter from Selma” in The New Yorker.
At the capitol, marchers turned in unison to the symbol of a country they considered the world’s greatest hope.
“The crowd turned away from the Confederate and Alabama State flags flying from the capitol, faced its own American flags, and sang the national anthem,” Adler wrote. Marchers also knelt in prayer.
The anthem symbolized the vision of a country in which minorities could excel and prosper. They could not have foreseen the day a young Colin Kaepernick would earn $126 million to play football for seven years.
More progress lies ahead, but yesterday’s star-spangled civil rights battles achieved great things. In the 1950s, one in seven adult black Americans held high school diplomas compared with one in three whites. Today, 85 percent of black adults have diplomas compared with 89 percent of whites. Most black households lived below poverty 50 years ago. Today, nearly 70 percent are middle class or above.
Black Americans fought in wars, marched in streets and passed laws to pursue the dream King described while venerating the flag. Whites and blacks will continue fighting together for equal justice, honoring a flag and anthem that symbolize slavery’s defeat and liberty’s ascent.
“Civil rights initiatives and legislation passed by states and nationally were won under the banner of fulfilling the promise of American rights and liberties that the flag and the national anthem represent,” wrote Earl Ofari Hutchinson, co-host of the “Al Sharpton Show” on Radio One, in the Huffington Post.
The anthem stands for white America, black America, conservative America, liberal America, religious America, atheist America, Democratic America, Republican America, gay-rights America and more.
That is why liberal atheist and war opponent Pat Tillman “got fired up” for the national anthem before each game for the Arizona Cardinals.
“Emotionally I actually let myself go for that,” he said in an interview, rating the national Anthem a 10 on his scale of priorities.
Tillman walked away from a $3.6 million contract to join the Army Rangers and fight in the Middle East after the Sept. 11 attacks. He came home in a casket, draped with the flag we all traditionally honor before games with hand over heart while hearing the national anthem.
In an inspired guest column for The New York Times on Monday, San Francisco 49ers’ strong safety Eric Reid put a new spin on NFL anthem kneeling. Before joining Kaepernick in protesting the anthem, the two discussed “systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system.”
“We chose to kneel because it’s a respected gesture,” Reid explained. “I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark tragedy. It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite.”
Thank you for that, Mr. Reid. “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” NFL fans have feared their children, watching heroes on TV, would learn to disrespect their country. The resource-rich NFL needs to help distribute and communicate Reid’s sincere explanation.
The United States is not perfect. Anthem kneelers express real concerns. They probably love the country, the flag and all it stands for.
The anthem and flag don’t represent injustice. They honor our country’s constant struggle to expand liberty and justice for all. Most Americans, including those who kneel, share this vision.
Players and their fans should move forward with actions and deeds that will correct injustice and help this country heal. Let’s do so with clearly stated respect for a flag and anthem that represents us all.
– The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)