Independence Day – Let Freedom Ring?

So my feelings about the 4th of July are complex and shifting, and I tried to tweet about them but 140 characters just isn’t enough when discussing the concept of freedom at the genesis of this celebration.

Alongside my usual posts of the Frederick Douglass speech, and of Sojourner Truth, I just want to include this John Laurens quote:

“We Americans at least in the Southern Colonies, cannot contend with a good Grace, for Liberty, until we shall have enfranchised our Slaves.”

These days, it’s more popularly read as

‘We’ll never be free until we end slavery’

I have to wonder, on a day like this, if Laurens would ever have been successful in his plan and, if so, how differently the story of the United States would have played out. It’s unlikely, of course, because even in his short life he was met with desperate hostility for considering arming black people. But imagine.

Archaeologists are currently excavating Hemmings‘ room in Monticello. A major room, connected to the master suite, had ‘somehow’ gone unnoticed by generations of museum staff. If Laurens had been successful, if the US had been built on equality from the outset, could that have happened? Could the man who raped an enslaved woman so often that he installed her in an adjacent bedroom for easier access be lauded as a brilliant, bright Founding Father, rather than a shameful blot on the landscape?

Could Truth And Reconciliation ever happen in America? Between the original population of the land and the people who slaughtered them? Between the white US population and the people who are still, hundreds of years later, being lynched with impunity?

I work to make this country I live in a decent one. We’re not there yet. We are closer than we were a decade ago, but we’ve still a long way to go. Part of that is owning the dark parts of our history and present, recognising our role in maintaining these inequalities. I look over the ocean and wonder what our hoped-for freedom from Britain will bring, and if we can ensure that our new nation does not follow the same path.

Freedom is a nice idea, but none of us are free yet. While any of us are oppressed, freedom is a bitter joke at the expense of the marginalised and disenfranchised. The work goes on.


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