In the midst of all of our “Red, White, and Blue” festivities, we need to remind ourselves that the Fourth is about the celebration of freedom as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
While we tend to forget the list of grievances we as colonists had against the Mother Country that are enumerated in the Declaration, almost everyone remembers its most significant message: all men are created equal and have certain rights that can’t be taken away–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Everyone recognizes that the statement was aspirational; specifically it did not include women or slaves who made up a significant percentage of the population in the South.
The history of our country has been a movement towards realizing the liberties that are associated with the Fourth of July. The great compromisers who put together the Constitution and its Bill of Rights could not resolve the contradictions in our stated goal and the practices of society. It took a civil war and hundreds of thousands of deaths to free the slaves and another century of struggle to extend civil rights to persons of color.
Recently, we were starkly reminded of how far we still need to go to expunge racism from our society. The horrific massacre of nine people at a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, puts into focus the extent to which some people are willing to go with their Confederate flag and symbols to glorify a conflict that was about a segment of society that was willing to go to war.
They fought to keep their ability to take away life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well as the property of others. The Civil War was not about states’ rights; it was about people who wanted to continue a lifestyle and economy on the backs of their slaves which the southern states were willing to allow. If any “rights” were lost in the Civil War, it was a mistaken notion that one should have a right to discriminate against others. The Confederate battle flags need to go down, and our work to end racism needs to intensify.
The Fourth of July was followed in our history by a long list of men and women who worked hard to extend the promises of the Declaration of Independence to everyone. Their work is paying off with the results we saw last week in the Supreme Court decisions on marriage, health care and housing.
Our celebration of the event that happened a long time ago needs this year as much as ever to include a commitment to work for freedom for all, to reject hate and divisions, and to ensure that the inalienable rights of all men and women to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are enjoyed in this country.
Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. His opinion does not reflect that of Reston Now.