We Hold These Truths

I spent Independence Day weekend thinking and reflecting about the holiday and the history of the United States of America.  Remembering how, as a child, I loved traditions of fireworks, barbecues/cookouts, and the patriotism.  Today, there is not much nostalgia; even with our first African-American President of the United States, I do not feel connected with the holiday.

Original caption: Painting by John Trumbull depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. ca. 1786-1819

There are some truths and realizations that make me see things differently, starting with the origins of this nation.  Much like today, the people who came to America were immigrants that sailed to another country to claim as their own in search of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

When you really think about it, these were groups of defectors from England, wanting freedom from the oppression of their King.  On July 4, 1776, the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence occurred…the infamous excerpt:

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.

As I read these words, did the writers of this declaration really mean that all men were created equal?  I question this as I learned that twelve million Africans were shipped to the Americas from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.  So, when the Declaration of Independence was formalized, stating, that all men are created equal, Africans were arriving to America, not as immigrants in search of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness but as cargo.

slaveshipL_468x385We hold these truths to be self-evident… Slavery existed as a legal institution on American soil before the founding of the United States in 1776, and remained a legal feature of American society, until the thirteenth amendment.  In December 1865, the thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution ended legalized slavery. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident… It took a separate law for our country to consider African-Americans as free people.  The law did not grant equal rights. Yet, “…all men are created equalendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”  The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments came nearly one-hundred years after the Declaration of Independence:

  • In 1868, the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution, ratified by the states, granting African Americans citizenship. 
  • In 1870, the fifteenth amendment prevented race from being a reason to deny the right to vote.

We hold these truths to be self-evident… African-Americans were:

  • NOT allowed to share a taxi with whites or enter a building through the same entrance.
  • Forced to drink from separate water fountains, use separate restrooms, attend separate schools, be buried in separate cemeteries and even swear on separate Bibles.
  • Excluded from restaurants and public libraries.
  • Kept from parks with signs that read “Negroes and dogs not allowed.”

-Colored-_drinking_fountain_from_mid-20th_century_with_african-american_drinkingYet, “…all men are created equalendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” 

I learned that my cousin, Clemencau McAdoo Givings served during World War II, as a Tuskegee Airmen in the Army Air Corp, during a time when the military enforced segregation.  I remember the stories my mother told me about how my grandfather practiced medicine but was not allowed because of the color of his skin and the time when she almost went into a “whites only” bathroom and the panicked-reaction of my grandmother to keep her baby from getting in trouble.

I could go on about the Civil Rights Movements, the noble actions of others who fought for real freedom and independence.  Nevertheless, I digress…the point I wish to make is… I find it difficult to celebrate it knowing that the language…”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.”…never applied to me in the first place.

We hold these truths to be self-evidentI’m an American Citizen…because of the fourteenth amendment written on July 9, 1868 and NOT because of the Declaration of Independence written on July 4, 1776. 

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