Over this July 4th weekend, I watched the classic movie, 1776, with my 12 year old granddaughter and was reminded that racism was at our beginning as a nation.
The Declaration of Independence had to be signed by all of the thirteen colonies. South Carolin and North Carolina would sign only if a part of the Declaration of Independence, as originally written by Thomas Jefferson and citing slavery as a moral evil, was stricken from the document. Jefferson had written that slavery was “violating the most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither”. John Adams from Massachusetts vehemently objected to cutting the section, speaking eloquently against slavery. Edward Rutledge from South Carolina pointed out that those in the Northern colonies also profited from the slave trade because they owned the slave ships. After a lengthy debate, Jefferson cut the section in order to get the Declaration of Independence signed. Without eliminating that section condemning slavery, we would not have had a nation in 1776 and would not be celebrating its 241st birthday on this Fourth of July.
But that is not the end of the story of our country. Please listen to this valedictory speech, given recently at Hill House High School in New Haven. The valedictorian, Coral Ortiz, speaks to what we can yet become as a country. Coral, a graduate of a public high school in a city which struggles with poverty and racism, shows us a future worth celebrating.
May our country move forward and fulfill its promise, a promise that Coral Ortiz demonstrates so clearly.