Despite laws that date back to the constitution of the United States of America, racial equality is still absent from today s society. Only those who choose not to look, and the na ve, believe that humankind has evolved to a standard that does not judge based on skin color, or ethnic background. We only need to recall the dozens of black churches that were burned in the south during the early nineties, or remember that a black man was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck not five years ago, the victim of a vicious hate crime. By analyzing significant acts that have occurred since the Declaration of Independence, it will become obvious that the plight of the minority in the United States is only slightly better that it was one hundred years ago.
From the very beginnings of American history it is evident that the masses, white men and women, were not concerned with the rights and liberties of minorities. The Declaration of Independence that so many of us have learned about is actually a revised version of an original draft. The revised version is only a declaration of partial independence, claiming freedom for those settlers that happened to be white, male, and landowners. How unfortunate that the founding fathers, struggling to break free of foreign oppression, allowed that same oppression to occur on American soil. The original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained the following excerpt,
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most
another hemisphere, or to incur a miserable death in their transportation hither(Jefferson826).
Here the forefathers are publicly criticizing the King of Britain for allowing slavery to occur, and rightly so. The forefathers talk about the horrible deaths that occurred as a result of the slave trade, and also that the King has violated sacred rights of Humanity, insinuating that the higher authority of God overrules all laws made by men. Yet they could not agree to keep the phrase in the final draft, which only shows the true discriminatory nature of those men. At no time were they trying to free every person from the tyrannical rule of the King, only themselves. One has to wonder how history would have changed, if the Declaration of Independence did in fact apply to all men and women.
The Constitution of the United States very clearly reads that all men are created equal but had to be rewritten in order to ensure that civil life would not be disrupted; for, the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness only applied to the white, land owning male of that time. Frederick Douglass, in a speech to congress, said, This, is the fourth of July. It is the birthday of your national independence, and of your political freedom it carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance (Douglass70). Frederick Douglass conveys his thoughts by removing himself from the audience. He repeatedly uses the words you and yours to iterate the fact that when America was formed, not all men were freed, and not all men have a reason to celebrate. His reasoning is supported by the fact that the slave trade was growing very quickly. Douglass also states, But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government… (Douglass71). Douglass implies to the members of congress that they do have the power to make the Fourth of July a reason for all of those in America to celebrate. He implies further that the freeing of the slaves must be accomplished if America is to become a great and mighty country. Douglass words would be seen as truth when in 1861, the United States found itself engaged in a Civil War, with slavery being one of the issues of conflict.
The Civil War brought about desperately needed changes to the Constitution, and America saw the beginning of what some would call the civil rights movement when the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments were added. The thirteenth amendment, ratified at the end of the civil war, freed all slaves. The fourteenth, ratified in 1868, made former slaves, and anyone else born in the U.S., legal citizens. The fifteenth amendment, not ratified until 1870, makes it illegal to stop someone from voting based on skin color. Although passed in 1870, the fifteenth amendment was not enforced until the 1970 s, one hundred years later. Officially, blacks were now American citizens, and black males had the right to vote. The results felt in society, however, were much different. Many blacks were threatened with their lives if they stepped into a voting booth, and were stilled viewed by most of the public as less than human. Blacks were paid much less than white workers for similar jobs, and had to put up with much abuse in order to keep the demeaning job. Lynn Hunt explains,
By 1871, northern interest in promoting African American political
rights was wandering, and southern whites began regaining control of
of the northern occupation of the south in 1877 put on hold for nearly
a century the promise of rights for blacks (796Hunt).
On paper, blacks had become citizens, with the same rights as all other Americans, but one hundred years later, one can see that society had changed only slightly, and that racial prejudice still flourished strongly throughout the United States (Hunt796).
In 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King was jailed for civil disobedience in Birmingham, Alabama. In reality, he was only leading a march in order to gain the attention of storeowners and lawmakers, who allowed demeaning racial signs to be posted in stores and restaurants. While Reverend King sat in a Birmingham jail, he read a letter that was published in a local newspaper. The letter, written and endorsed by a variety of religious leaders, condemned King for leading the group of demonstrators. These men called King s actions, unwise and untimely (King792). These other religious leaders would actually have King and his supporters suffer idly under an unjust law than attempt to bring rectification to the situation. Of all the people in society, one would expect the preachers of religion to be among those that would sympathize with the minority groups that were unfairly and unlawfully discriminated against, but yet it was this very group that publicly denounced the actions of those trying to gain justice. Reverend King replies that, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (King793). Unless an effort is made to stop discrimination, it will continue to spread and consume America from the inside out.
A country as great as the United States, that has the power to thwart wrongdoing on all corners of the globe, but cannot ensure that all of its citizens will be treated fairly, and not judged on the color of skin. The plight of the minority has become better as the years have passed, and for the most part, black men and women can walk down the street without fear of vicious attacks based on race, and it is now illegal to deny service to an individual based on skin color, but it was also illegal in 1963. When one starts life as another s property, any positive change in that people s social position can be made to look monumental. America was founded based on a theory of equal rights for all, and the words of the Constitution of the United States should apply to every man, woman, and child, but still today they do not. If Americans cannot live together in harmony, it will be the destruction of the mightiest country ever formed. Frederick Douglass uses the analogy of a river when he states,
They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate
But while a river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations (Douglass 71).
Douglass subtly warned congress of the consequences what would occur if justice were not carried out. By showing the members of Congress how far their new country had come, he reasoned with them, showing that the freeing of the slaves was the only real alternative to war. Not willing to act on his words, nine years later the members of Congress found the country destroyed by the Civil War, which to this day has claimed more American lives than any other war. If America cannot change, rebellion will once again happen, not in the form of war, but in the lamenting consumption that has the power to weaken this great nation to a position of great vulnerability. Until the day should come that we can all call upon each other as brother and sister, will we not be free. Not free from oppression, not free from guilt, and not free to know that our children can live in a world where color not used judge another human being.