Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, Civil Rights

Civil Rights Groups Vote For Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge To Be Renamed Due To Slavery Ties

Way to get the conversation started early!

A group of civil rights advocates voted unanimously for the Maryland state government to rename the Francis Scott Key Bridge since Key was a slave owner.

The Caucus of African American Leaders, including members of the NAACP and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, sent recommendations for Democratic Gov. Wes Moore and the General Assembly to consider for the bridge, which was destroyed in late March 2024

The group described Key, the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as being a controversial figure during the anti-slavery movement. They suggest the bridge be named after Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, the first Black Marylander to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970. Mitchell died in 2007, and Caucus convener Carl O. Snowden said he “spent a life, his entire life, creating a bridge between the African American community and literally the larger society.” 

After a cargo containment ship crashed into the bridge, causing it to collapse, federal and state leaders started conversations about plans to rebuild. With more than 11 million vehicles driven across it annually, the structure was built in 1977, overlooking the Patapsco River — the place where Key wrote the National Anthem. 

Key believed Black people to be an inferior race. In addition to profiting from slavery, the songwriter said Africans in America were “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” 

Snowden mentioned the name change should coincide with someone “taxpayers can respect.” “Every single public structure that is built to honor someone is being done using all taxpayers’ money,” Snowden said. “Whoever the bridge is named after should be somebody that all taxpayers can respect.”

The group also recommended renaming the Sen. Frederick Malkus Memorial Bridge after Gloria Richardson, the first woman leader of a grassroots civil rights organization outside of the South in the U.S. 

Snowden and the Caucus plan to discuss their proposal in more detail during their quarterly meeting with the governor. However, according to The Baltimore Banner, Moore said, “There will be time for that, but now’s not the time.” As he claims the name change issue is new news to him, Moore said his focus is recovering the bodies of the bridge workers, reopening the shipping channel and rebuilding the structure. 

Conservatives had hoped the bridge would be renamed following its demise. Hours after the collapse, Georgia GOP Rep. Mike Collins tweeted, “Baltimore obviously won’t rename the new bridge after Francis Scott Key again. So, any guesses on the new bridge name?”

Texas Public Policy Foundation Chief National Initiatives Officer Chuck DeVore shared similar feelings. “What do you bet, that when the Francis Scott Key Bridge is rebuilt, there will be a major push to rename the bridge?” he said on the social platform. 

However, due to the state’s reputation for listening to Black residents’ recommendations to rectify tainted histories, Caucus leaders said they were optimistic about the proposal.