By Ferrell Foster
Independence Day is always special, but this year it is even more treasured. On July 4, 1776, the founders of this nation laid down some principles that would shape this people for generations. Now that we have added Juneteenth as a federal holiday, we can see more clearly that bringing those first principles to fruition is a process.
“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” (U.S. Declaration of Independence).
Let’s put those words in chronological context:
1776 – The authors didn’t really mean “all men” and, of course, not women. Slaveholders were among the signers.
1861 – That disconnect eventually led to a Civil War, the most deadly war for Americans in their history.
1862 – President Lincoln started broadening freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation.
1865 – Slaves in Galveston learned of their freedom — Juneteenth.
That’s 89 years from the signing of the Declaration to Juneteenth. Countless people suffered and died to make that progress.
But any student of history knows that only chattel slavery (humans as owned property) ended in 1865; a new type of slavery emerged eventually grouped under the term of Jim Crow laws — varied rules that sought to keep African Americans in a subservient position.
1954 – The U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruled that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
1955 – Rosa Parks says “no” to sitting at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., and local pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., emerges as the bus boycott’s voice and eventually the nation’s.
1964 – In the wake of the assassination of President John Kennedy, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
1965 – Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.
That’s 100 years between the first Juneteenth and the Voting Rights Act.
The words of the Declaration of Independence did not free slaves; those words laid the philosophical and national foundations by which people could work to wrest their freedom from the power of oppressors.
On July 4 we do not celebrate freedom achieved; we celebrate freedom made possible. And in doing so we remember the long years of struggle from Independence Day to Juneteenth and then to the Voting Rights Act.
And this freedom is not a liberty to do whatever an individual wants; it is a freedom to enjoy the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And, since all people are of equal value, we pursue those three things in consideration of the same pursuit by others.
All people (Black, Hispanic, Asian, White … any gender … from any nation) . . .
. . . are created equal (no group is superior) . . .
. . . they are endowed by their Creator (this isn’t something a few people just made up) . . .
. . . with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We celebrate 1776 and 1865 and 1965, but we know there is still more to be done, and that includes right here in Waco.
Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and is senior content specialist for care and communition with Prosper Waco.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].