Monday, November 17, 2008

We hold these truths to be self evident...or do we?

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.

Those words from the Declaration of Independence were written in 1776 by a team led by Thomas Jefferson. They marked a revolution in political history: the American colonies declared "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The American revolution was not just the overthrowing of a despotic king's power, but also the founding of a new form of government.

Though all men were declared equal in 1776, a terrible political compromise meant people of certain racial heritages were not considered full men. Thus they were denied the unalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and often of life, too).

Nearly ninety years later, that terrible compromise fell apart. And standing on a bloody battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln declared:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Lincoln led the country through that awful test, and proved that not only could such a nation endure, but that it could endure even as it defined African Americans as full men. Slavery was abolished.

Yet still African Americans were unable to enjoy their full rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was another ninety years before the Supreme Court (in Brown v. Board of Education) declared segregation of public schools to be unconstitutional in a case argued by Thurgood Marshall.

And still discrimination and even segregation continued for years.

This month's election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the US marks, I hope, the beginning of the end of our heritage of racism in the US. Even most Americans with opposing political views are happy that this nation has voted to affirm at last that African Americans are created equal. This is cause for some pride and celebration, even though it took us over 230 years.

Which raises for me the following: Now that we have fully affirmed that our fellow black countrymen have full rights, what is the next frontier? Who among our neighbors are still suffering from discrimination? Who among us are unable to exercise their full rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?