KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
"The Star-Spangled Banner" will be playing all over the country tonight while fireworks go off. Few people know there are actually four official verses to the song. And even fewer know the one unofficial verse that was written a half a century later. Chloe Veltman of member station KQED says that verse might be relevant today.
CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: When poet Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote his extra verse, it was long after Francis Scott Key wrote the original. The U.S. was in the grip of Civil War. Here's the verse, sung by the concert choir of Lowell High School in San Francisco.
LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) When our land is illum'd (ph) with Liberty's smile, if a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory.
VELTMAN: Did you hear that? Unlike the familiar verse, it's not about a foreign enemy, it's about the foe from within.
LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile the flag of her stars and the page of her story.
STEPHEN MUCHER: He wrote that fifth verse I believe with real sorrow about what was happening to his country.
VELTMAN: Stephen Mucher is a history professor at Bard College.
MUCHER: The divisions that we had in this country in 1861 are similar to what we have now.
VELTMAN: It was, of course, actual war back then. And this verse circulated throughout the North, but there was also hope.
LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) By the millions unchained who their birthright have gained, we will keep her bright blazon forever unstained.
VELTMAN: The millions unchained - those lines look forward to the emancipation of enslaved people.
LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) And "The Star-Spangled Banner" in triumph shall wave.
VELTMAN: Mucher says he can't imagine a country without, oh, say, can you see? He'd like for people to sing both the first and the fifth stanzas as a way for Americans to unite around the principles of the Constitution. For NPR News, I'm Chloe Veltman in San Francisco.
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