Alabama voters may have the opportunity next year to vote on amending the state constitution to require all public schools to broadcast the Star-Spangled Banner once a week. Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has pre-filed a bill for the 2024 legislative session that would place the proposal on the next election ballot.
The bill would require all public K-12 schools to broadcast any recording of the Star-Spangled Banner that is archived within the Library of Congress, or alternatively, perform the national anthem by a school-sanctioned band, choral program, vocal group or vocalist.
Allen had introduced a similar bill during the 2023 legislative session that received a favorable report from the Senate State Governmental Affairs Committee, but was ultimately shelved. In that Senate committee, the bill received pushback from Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, who pointed to a particular excerpt from the full song, an excerpt not traditionally heard in most performances or recordings: “no refuge could save the hireling and slave.”
The excerpt has been described by some historians as a condemnation of Black soldiers who, during the War of 1812, fled to the British in an effort to escape slavery. Some historians, however, disagree with that depiction.
Historians who do label the excerpt as a condemnation of Black soldiers and slaves, such as Morgan State University Professor Jason Johnson, point to an incident where the song’s writer, Francis Scott Key, a slave owner himself, faced Black Colonial Marines in battle and suffered a decisive defeat just weeks before penning the song.
As the bill is a proposed constitutional amendment, Alabama voters would have to have the final say in its approval were it to become law.
The Alabama Legislature will reconvene for the 2024 legislative session on Tuesday, Feb. 6.