Posted on April 1, 2024

When the Bridge in MD Is Rebuilt, Rename It Because Francis Scott Key Was a Slave Owner

Wayne Washington, The Root, March 27, 2024

The tragic bridge collapse in Baltimore is sure to dominate news coverage for the next several days {snip}


President Joe Biden has pledged that the bridge will be rebuilt. Absolutely. Do that. But when it’s rebuilt, let’s rename it, too.

Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Bangled Banner,” our national anthem. A lawyer and amateur poet. Key wrote the song in 1814 after being heartened to see that our flag still flew over Fort McHenry despite sustained bombardment by the British during the War of 1812.


{snip} We should not, in 2020-whenever-the-bridge-is-rebuilt, be naming things in honor of former slaveholders.


He is said to have argued passionately in favor of the wrongs of slavery. And yet, in the unsuccessful prosecution of a man who had anti-slavery pamphlets in his possession, the slave-owning Key, according to a 2007 collection of pamphlets edited by Paul Finkelman, attempted to inflame the jury with these words:

“Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country, to permit it to be taken from you, and occupied by the abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the negro? Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, are there laws in this community to defend you from the immediate abolitionist, who would open upon you the floodgates of such extensive wickedness and mischief?”


So, when the new bridge spans the Patapsco, name it something other than the Key Bridge.

Lots of Americans — hell, lots of Marylanders — are far more worthy of the honor. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass immediately come to mind.

Hell, we don’t even have to go back that far. What about Thurgood Marshall? Or the late congressman, Elijah Cummings?