Anthem Protests Old and New
“Then the priests and the prophets said, ‘This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city.’ Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, ‘It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard.'” – Jeremiah 26:11-12
Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
I bet you’ve seen their picture. Fifty years ago today, they climbed the podium at the Summer Olympics to receive the gold and bronze medals for the United States in the 200-meter. Shoeless to symbolize Black poverty, one wearing a scarf for Black pride and one a string of beads in memory of the lynched, they stood through the National Anthem with black-gloved fists raised in the Black Power salute in protest of human rights violations in the United States and South Africa.
The audience booed. Smith and Carlos got banned from the rest of the games for their “violence.” At home, a few people applauded, but many more had reactions that ranged from I-agree-with-them-but-not-their-methods to death threats. Jeremiah wouldn’t have been surprised.
Now fifty years on another prophet-athlete has become known for making a peaceful National Anthem protest. The same old chorus, the one they sang millennia ago against the prophet Jeremiah, the one they sang 50 years ago against the prophets Smith and Carlos, is now being sung against Colin Kaepernick for his protest of police violence against people of color. It’s a tired old chestnut, but people sure love to sing it.
The people who wanted to silence Jeremiah didn’t; his protests became Scripture. The people who wanted Smith and Carlos to behave failed; Jim Crow and apartheid died instead. The same people are trying hard with the prophet Kaepernick now. What do you think God wants to happen?
And what are you going to do about it?
When your prophets speak, O God, let me not join in the same old song. Make me listen, make me understand, make me act. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.