Roy Exum: Our Racially-Insensitive Song

Friday, February 16, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Just before I got out of high school in 1967, there came a late-January morning when I was called to the office the minute I arrived in homeroom. This happened with some regularity, if you must know, but this particular morning as I made my way down the steps, I just knew I was innocent of any forthcoming charges. I couldn’t think of one misdeed I had pending. But no, this morning was totally different. The innocence of my youth was ripped from my heart as I was told, “Go find ‘Tang’! Find him and stay until people get there. Stay there … Lonnie’s been killed in Viet Nam.”

Lonnie Floyd, a couple of years older than me, was a close schoolmate but it was because his daddy – who everybody called by his nickname Tang. Lonnie’s daddy raised me just like his did Richard, Tommy and the girls. “Momma Ruth” always had room for me at the table, and every day that we worked alongside Tango in the summers there would be a big wax-paper-wrapped piece of cake for me in Tang’s lunchbox.

When my grandfather put me to work at age 12, Tang was my overseer. He was hysterical, so full of wisdom and delight, and was very vividly like a father to me. That’s why Lonnie was more like a brother and his older brother Richard a Godly treasure. I went to dozen of Viet Nam funerals back then but Lonnie’s was the first, and the blackest by far because the hurt was so huge.

Several days ago in San Ramon, California – in the East Bay about 35 miles outside San Francisco – the School Government Association at California High School voted that the Star-Spangled Banner should never be played again.  Ariyana Kermanizadeh, the president of the school’s Associated Student Body, cited the “outdated and racially insensitive” third verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the reason in an open letter.

While “Ariyana Kermanizadeh” doesn’t sound like it is a local name, so to speak, I wish I could get this minor, who is not yet 18, and take him in my time capsule back to the day tears literally dripped off the faces of us boys at kids’ face his same age as Lonnie, age 19, was buried under the blankets of Taps. That was the day the Star Banner took on deep reverence.

Two months after Lonnie, who was a Spec. 4 with the 173 Airborne, was buried my brother carried one of Lonnie’s dog tags back to Viet Nam for two hellish tours with the Marines. That summer Kinch sent me a taped-up piece of paper to hand-deliver to Tang: Opened it read, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” I love you Tang. Semper Fi.” And Lonnie’s dog tag was with it.

In California the decision of high school students raised a ripple and here is part of what Kermanizadeh wrote in a letter to his community:

* * *


A few weeks before the rally it was brought to our attention that the National Anthem’s third verse is outdated and racially insensitive.

I have said this before and I will say this again, that ASB stands for Associated Student Body, that means for all. After learning about the third verse, the other ASB officers and I thought that this was completely unacceptable and must be removed from the rally.

We had nothing but good intentions by removing the song so that we could be fully inclusive to our student body. More specifically, the third verse of our National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” states:

“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 home of the brave.”

We understand that this third verse is not included when the anthem is performed, but still, what does this tell us? This verse translated, finds joy in the killing of African-Americans. To think that our nation’s anthem once had the word slave and “land of the free” in the same sentence leaves me speechless.

Moving forward, we must take action and be inclusive to all. This song was written in 1814.

That was written 204 years ago. Imagine all the traditions and laws that have changed. The 15th Amendment granted African Americans the right to vote in 1870.

* * *

This kid who has never cried, bled, or was ever sent a bill for freedom rambled on but, as for me, I remember being with Tang and “Momma Ruth” and I’ll always stand for America, every time. I’ve honored our fallen at funerals and I suspect, as our Student Government president ambles through life, his naiveté will catch up with him seven fold.

As for his advisors and modern-day mentors, if they would dare come around I feel good about whistling up some of Lonnie’s old teammates because for this, they’d love to scrimmage one last time. Matter of fact, I'm thinking they might bring some other big boys with them. Are you kidding me, for this I can get the entire 101st Airborne, every last Screamin’ Eagle, to hitch-hike down from Fort Campbell and we can have a full afternoon and half a night of patriotism.

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