Inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a Texas fifth grade student takes a knee to protest the U.S. National Anthem at her middle school during the daily recitation of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.
Unlike Kaepernick, who says he kneels during the playing of the national anthem to protest police brutality and black oppression, 10-year-0ld Skyla Madria said she knelt periodically over the past two weeks to protest the barely known, unsung third verse of the poem written by Francis Scott Key that would become the national anthem. It mentions slavery.
However, students at Alexander Middle School do not sing “The Star Spangled Banner” each morning when gather at the campus gymnasium. Instead, Madria uses Pledge time. A Pearland Independent School District official told KHOU that students only recite the U.S. Pledge and the Texas Pledge followed by a moment of silence every day.
On Wednesday, with Quanell X, leader of the New Black Panther Party in Houston at her side, Madria told reporters: “I did not really agree with the national anthem.” She objected to the little known lyric. “I decided that’s not right.”
— Stephanie Whitfield (@KHOUStephanie) September 14, 2016
According to KPRC, Madria and Quanell X view the national anthem and the pledge in the same light. The black Muslim activist said: “So when you talk about saying the pledge, it says with ‘freedom and justice for all?’ When in the hell is white America in this country given black folks freedom and justice for all?”
Madria claimed one coach did not appreciate her silent protest. “He told me you should respect my flag, and respect my nation, and you should stand up for this pledge,” the girl told reporters, adding: “He yelled at me. He sent me to the principal. The principal called my mother and called me disgusting for not standing up.”
The girl’s mother, Elizabeth Owens, told reporters she wants an apology from the school district over how the incident was allegedly handled. She then contacted community activist Quanell X.
However, in a statement, the school district recounted the incident differently than Madria:
“When a Pearland ISD student recently knelt during the Pledge of Allegiance, the teacher requested that the child stand, and the child did so. The teacher did not touch or discipline the student in any way, as alleged by Quanell X. The student’s parent initially told campus administrators that the child should stand as well.
When Pearland ISD Superintendent Dr. John Kelly learned of the situation, he determined that students may, by Texas law, opt out of reciting the pledge based on their parents’ consent.”
At the press conference, Owens said she supported her daughter “100 percent” and told the girl: “You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re standing for what you believe in.”
Quanell X said: “Why would we ask any African American child or citizen to stand up and honor a flag with an anthem written by a slave owner who promised nothing but turmoil to blacks to the grave?”
Only the first verse of “The Star Spangled Banner” is known by most Americans. The words to which Madria objected read:
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave…”
While it is true that Key was a slaveowner, the online Encyclopaedia Britannica stated he “treated his own slaves humanely and freed several during his lifetime.” By profession, Key was a lawyer. The EB noted he “provided free legal advice to slaves and freedmen in Washington, D.C., including civil actions in which enslaved individuals petitioned for their freedom.”
According to Pearland ISD, on page 43 of their student handbook policy, parents may request in writing that their child be excused from participation in the daily recitation of the U.S. and Texas flag pledges. “State law does not allow your child to be excused from participation in the required minute of silence or silent activity that follows,” the district commented. Owens plans to sign the waiver so her daughter will be free from reciting the Pledge each day.
Thursday morning, KPRC reported the school district will allow Madria to kneel during the daily Pledge of Allegiance with her mother’s written permission. A district spokesperson said the involvement of Quanell X “did not sway or impact” their decision.
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