As we get closer to America’s 247th birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about equality. A couple years ago, I had the chance to spend some time in Boston on the “Freedom Trail”.
The history is truly fascinating, but it leaves you with mixed feelings.
🤩 On one hand, you feel so proud of our heritage- the resourcefulness it took to form the building blocks of the nation we love today…the bravery of the colonists who fought for our freedom…and the democratic ideals on which we were founded.
😔 On the other hand, you walk away feeling disappointed and ashamed, as the historical facts make it abundantly and unavoidably clear that our nation and its riches were built on slave labor…the obliteration of the Native Americans…the subjugation of women…the exploitation of the working class…and the exploitation of resources from nations far and wide.
“No taxation without representation“ actually meant “no taxation without representation for white property owning men”.
(Only white property owning men could vote and they only accounted for 5% of the population. So much for democracy.)
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was meant in varying degrees:
Full life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for white property owning men.
Less for white men who could not afford property.
Even less for white women.
And somewhere between slim and none for African Americans and other minorities.
👉 It never ceases to amaze me how people who are fighting, or have fought, for their own rights and freedom are quite happy to trample on those of others.
So I walked away not feeling either/or, but feeling both/and. As in both proud of our heritage and ashamed and disappointed.
🙏 Yet I also walked away with hope because even at the height of slavery…the height of the subjugation of women…the height of inequality for everyone other than white property owning men…there have always been signs of hope for “a more just society”.
From Phillis Wheatley- the African American girl who, with the support of her “owners”, learned to read and write and published a book of poems while she was still a slave, and was emancipated by her “owners” soon thereafter…
…to Dred Scott- an African American slave who sued for his freedom (though he lost, I was surprised to learn that he could even bring the lawsuit. I was also surprised to learn how enraged a great many people were that he lost his lawsuit)…
…to Lucy Stone, who spoke at Faneuil Hall against the taxation of women without representation (I was surprised to learn that she was even allowed to speak)…
…to John Adams- a signatory to the Declaration of Independence and our 2nd president- who defended the British soldiers responsible for the Boston Massacre in court because he believed in the rule of law and presumption of innocence as much as he believed in American independence.
⚖️ Today, you can look at our nation and equally think about how far we’ve come in terms of equality, and also think how little progress we’ve made, given that we’ve had 247 years to do it.
What I can say is that our Great Experiment holds timeless ideals that are worth fighting for to this day, and that I believe MLK was right when he said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
So this 4th of July, I’ll be celebrating the progress we’ve made, while keeping one eye on the future and my role in creating that “more perfect union” we aspire to be.
🇺🇸 For, above the Constitution…above the Bill of Rights…above the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner, I believe most of all in these truths we held to be “self-evident”:
That all are created equal and that all are endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Happy Independence Day!