Panel Discussion on the Legacy of Francis Scott Key, Class of 1796, to Be Held April 17

Panel will feature notable Key scholars from around the country; St. John’s College Bookstore to host book signing

ANNAPOLIS, MD [April 4, 2024] — St. John’s College will host “The Legacy of Francis Scott Key, Class of 1796,” a panel discussion, on Wednesday, April 17. This event organized by the College History Task Force will discuss the complicated legacy of Francis Scott Key, founder of the St. John’s College Alumni Association, and the college’s most famous—and perhaps most controversial—graduate. The panel will be moderated by Chanel Compton Johnson, Executive Director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum. Panelists include Professor Mark Clague, author of the 2022 cultural biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” O Say Can You Hear?, Marc Leepson, author of the 2014 Francis Scott Key biography What So Proudly We Hailed, and Professor William Thomas, author of the 2020 history of freedom suits, A Question of Freedom.

“I hope that many members of the Annapolis community, along with St. John’s College students, staff, faculty, and alumni attend the panel, either in person or online,” says St. John’s College President Nora Demleitner. “This is an opportunity for us to recognize and learn from our history, beginning with one of our most significant alumni.”

The panel will be held Wednesday, April 17, 7:30 p.m. ET at St. John’s College, Mellon Hall, Francis Scott Key Auditorium, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401. The panel is free and open to the public and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The panel will also be livestreamed to YouTube. Following the discussion, there will be a question period. Questions for the panelists may be submitted in advance or during the panel to chtf(at)

Copies of the authors’ books are available for purchase at the St. John’s College bookstore. A book signing will be held Wednesday, April 17, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at the bookstore located in Humphreys Hall, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401. The book signing is free and open to the public.

“Viewed from 2024, Key’s life seems to be a series of contradictions,” says board member and College History Task Force Chair Adrian Trevisan (A84). “For example, as a lawyer, he represented enslaved Black people pro bono in suits seeking their freedom, and but also represented slave owners in such suits for pay. We hope this panel gives our community historical context to understand these apparent contradictions and leads to informed discussions and questions.”

This discussion is organized by the College History Task Force, which has received grants from the State of Maryland and the France-Merrick Foundation to research and publish a report with a focus on the men for whom the 16 of the oldest buildings on the Annapolis campus are named, and their relation to enslaved and indigenous people. The report is expected to be published later this year. The task force is seeking the community’s input on how the college should acknowledge Key and others. The task force will use these comments in formulating recommendations to the Board of Visitors and Governors on how the college’s history should be acknowledged.

Visit more information. To learn about other events at St. John’s College, see the Events Calendar.


Chanel Compton Johnson is inspired and passionate about her role as executive director for the Banneker-Douglass Museum and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. Johnson has been a lifelong supporter of museums, stating, “A museum can be such a powerful place. As a young person, it was my initial visit to museums and galleries that opened my eyes and mind to new perspectives, cultures, and history. African American museums are instrumental in inspiring a new generation of leaders and innovators because they are places of empowerment, of learning, and individual and collective transformation.” As executive director, Johnson is dedicated to serving the great state of Maryland to amplify and support African American heritage initiatives, groups, and museums to gain further access to resources, partnerships, and reach new audiences and heights. Johnson earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rutgers University and completed a graduate degree in arts management from American University. She is also a visual artist, expressing Black diasporic experiences, history, and identity through portraits, abstract paintings, and mosaics. She shares a home and art studio with her husband in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mark Clague, PhD, serves as professor of musicology, arts leadership, and American culture at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where he is also editor-in-chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition. This year, he has served as interim executive director of the U-M Arts Initiative, a catalyst for the arts on campus and beyond that integrates creativity and expression into the University of Michigan’s learning, research, and service mission. Clague’s research focuses on the social power of music in American life. His book O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was released by W. W. Norton in June 2022 and is now out in paperback. It was enthusiastically reviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, among others. The book explores the forgotten history, changing meanings, and ongoing social function of Francis Scott Key’s song, which in 1931 became the national anthem of the United States. Clague’s other anthem-related publications include the recording Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of The Star-Spangled Banner (2014), which surveys historic versions of the U.S. national anthem, and the Star Spangled Songbook (2015), a collection of historic sheet music. His research has sparked collaborations with the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Los Angeles Grammy Museum, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, and in recital with baritone Thomas Hampson at the Library of Congress. His anthem history website,, offers special resources for K-12 teachers and features ongoing commentary on the song today.

Marc Leepson is a journalist and historian, and the author of 10 books, including What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life; Flag: An American Biography; Lafayette: Idealist General; and Saving Monticello. A former staff writer for Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C., he has written articles and reviews for many newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as entries in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana, and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. He has been interviewed many times on radio and television, including on The Today Show, CNN, MSNBC, the History Channel, All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, Morning Edition, and BBC NewsHour. He is the longtime senior writer, arts editor, and columnist for The VVA Veteran, the magazine published by Vietnam Veterans of America.

After graduating from George Washington University in 1967, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served on active duty from 1967-69, including a year in the Vietnam War, received his honorable discharge, and went on to earn a master’s degree in history from GW in 1971. From 2008-2015 he taught U.S. history at Laurel Ridge Community College in Warrenton, Virginia.

William G. Thomas III is the Angle Chair in the Humanities and professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He was cofounder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and is the winner of the 2021 Lynton History prize for A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War. He is a co-producer, cofounder, and screenwriter for Animating History, a series of award-winning animated films, including Anna (11 min., 2018) and The Bell Affair (82 min., 2022) now available on streaming platforms.


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