Letter: Has America lived up to the Declaration of Independence?
July 7, 2015
To the Editor:
July 4th has always been one of the top three American holidays for just about everyone. To capture the moment of this day, Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye sang perhaps the greatest, most emotional versions of America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner ever recorded.
The Declaration of Independence says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Ironically, a little over 160 years ago, July 4th held very little Independence and even less hope of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for America's African slaves.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass was asked to deliver a speech in Rochester, N.Y., on Independence Day. Mr. Douglass was a former slave who escaped and ultimately purchased his own freedom. Here's an excerpt from his speech:
"Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?"
Does it appear that Mr. Douglass felt included in the American concept of Independence?
Over 100 years later, in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stated during his "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., that "… It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note (The Declaration of Independence) insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"
Today in 2015, many of us from the African American community are still seeking Independence and freedom; freedom from the psychological bondage of drug addiction, of self-hate, of mis-education and so on. Some of us are still seeking freedom from our government using deadly force against us in the streets and in our churches.
Let us be mindful that Independence is not free. As Independence Day remains a fresh memory, let us in the African American community and elsewhere reflect on the sacrifices by those who have made our Independence possible. When Independence is alive and well in America, all men will be able to depend on one another when in need, yet the virtue of our Independence will not allow us to be dependent on others for what we can do for ourselves. Now there's an attitude of Independence we can all celebrate.