There is a long tradition in this country of fighting for our freedom. From the 1773 Boston Tea Party through the 1861 Civil War to the Freedom March of 1963. Each time, the cause was the result of citizens who felt they were not accorded their due dignity, respect and rights they were entitled to.
In 1773, colonists protested what they felt was the inclination of the British to overtax everything in the colonies. They lacked any representation in the British Parliament, so they felt no one was looking out for their interests. Things came to a head when the British raised the tax, again, on tea imports and the colonists in Boston refused to pay.
The displeasure of the colonists was expressed in an action that, the next morning, made them sit up and declare, “We did what?” Let’s say you and the boys are pounding down a couple of tankards of ale and, as usual, are discussing your favorite subjects, taxes and the ones that tax you. Then, as usually happens in gatherings such as these, someone said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve have just about had it with the man keeping us down. (Believed to be the first time the expression was used.) The British closed the harbor because we won’t pay their taxes on tea. Now we can’t get anything in the harbor. Hey, you know what we oughta do? We oughta go down there and dump all the tea in the water. Hey, tax this, your Royal Highness! To hell with their laws, until they give us the dignity, respect and rights we deserve. All right boys, who’s with me?”
In 1861, President Lincoln was elected. One of his talking points was the opposition of the extension of slavery into the western states. Slave owners felt that if they brought their slaves to a non-slavery state, their rights to their property should be respected. “You know what we oughta do? We oughta secede from the Union. To hell with their laws, until they give us the dignity, respect and rights we deserve. All right, boys, who’s with me?” There was probably a yee-haw in there somewhere. The results didn’t work out the way the Confederates had envisioned it.
In 1963, over 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, many black Americans felt that they had been patient long enough and they wanted the rights that the 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments had promised them.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve just about had it with the man keeping us down. You know what we oughta do? We oughta demand our freedoms guaranteed to us in the Constitution. To hell with their laws, until they give us the dignity, respect and rights we deserve. All right, boys, who’s with me?”
For people of the same race, the human race, and citizens of a country that place so much value on freedom, it’s hard to understand how we grew so far apart. Most of us didn’t want to see a civil rights revolution. However, there were some of us, on both sides, who dared the other to bring it on.
Into this void stepped a man. A preacher man. A man with a dream. This man would suffer the slings and arrows of his
tormentors on all sides. How disappointed he must have been to see some of his own people ridicule him for trying to get them the dignity they deserved.
I remember how he was made to walk through jeering, spitting, punching and kicking mobs of men, women and children. How shameful to see Americans treat each other that way. How heavy his feet must have felt as he lifted them again and again to move forward against all odds in what must have seemed like a nightmare. And the next week he would go out and do it again. Non-violently.
And, I think, that was the key. If he was willing to endure all this for freedom, it forced people to look and see what was happening. Just like Gandhi. And that was when things started to change. He didn’t make it to the Promised Land with us, but I know he would have been proud of President Obama for getting elected and of us for electing him. Not for the color of his skin, but for the content of his character.
We haven’t made it to the mountaintop, but we’re getting there.
John Wallace, of Leesburg, is a post office employee.