I love the Fourth of July, Parades, and The Stars and Stripes Forever.
Yes, you can be a card-carrying diversity professional like I am and still show patriotism and love of country. Through the blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors, Black, White, Brown, Asian, and Native American, on July 4th the United States of America can suspend its conflict, and strife long enough to celebrate its freedom. The freedom to stand on a street corner and berate Congress for not acting with more bold courage without fear of being arrested and killed. The freedom to call a public official "stupid" when indeed that may be the case. The freedom to form a new group to stop corporate greed and corruption without fear of disappearing in the heat of the night. The freedom to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC for any cause, any protest, any campaign without being thrown in jail never to be heard of again. The freedom to protest the separation of some 2000 children from immigrant parents, whose only crime is coming to America to seek a better life.
That is the America I love. We are far from perfect... but we have surely come a long way.
And I love American Patriots like our second US President, John Adams. Not Thomas Jefferson whose public profile is much bigger than Adams. I LOVE John Adams, and do you know why??? Because he never owned slaves and forbade his loving wife, Abigail, from bringing them to his home when they married in 1764.
Abigail’s father had owned slaves, but she became a champion of freedom by not owning them as a married woman. In fact, she helped a young free Black obtain an education in Braintree, Massachusetts when neighbors wanted to keep the young man ignorant.
John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson
Abigail and John Adams never owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and fathered several slave children with his mistress Sally Hemings.
Both Adams and Jefferson were signers of the Declaration of Independence. Both were freedom fighters. Both were US Presidents. And both died on July 4, 1826.
But my favorite will remain John Adams because he did not own slaves.
My Own Family's American Heritage
I feel that strongly about Adams vs Jefferson because my own family roots go back to their era. As a proud member of the Gaines Family of Georgia, my family can trace its heritage back to the mid to late 1700s, to Louise and William Gaines who were born in the 1780s, married and had 14 children. Their slave master had some sense of decency, did not separate the family and allowed them to live as man and wife their entire lives. It is from their heritage my mother’s people celebrate our American legacy every other year at our family reunion. That includes our upcoming reunion in Orlando later this month.
Modern Day Patriots
I love July 4th because of the Martin Luther Kings, Ralph Abernathys and Rosa Parks of America. Their struggles made it possible for me to live and educate my children in neighborhoods that historically would not have welcomed a black family to settle in and make a home for themselves. The sacrifices of those civil rights heroes will help me celebrate this day with even more intensity.
And let’s not forget the sacrifices of Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta, the courageous Latino civil rights leaders in California in the 1960s and 70s. And dare we forget the 1982 death of Chinese American Vincent Chin, killed by angry Whites who thought he was Japanese and blamed him for the auto industry’s slump in Detroit. His tragic death mobilized countless Asian Americans to organize against hate crimes.
And we must celebrate the life of Wilma Mankiller, the warrior woman Native American activist, and First Female Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She died in 2010 after years of advocating and leading her people.
This is the America I know and celebrate on July 4th. Bravery. Courage. Advocacy. Civil Rights. Social Justice. Seeking the American dream for all people, no matter what their ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, social class or religion may be.
It’s a young history, compared to the people of Africa, Australia, Asia, Latin America, South America or Europe. But it’s a history deeply rooted in triumph over struggle and equal access over oppression.
It’s All About The Music
For me, the best part of July 4th isn’t the barbeques or beach parties. It’s watching the Boston Pops Concert that starts at 8 pm. People are already at the Hatch Shell near the Charles River preparing for the open-air concert and fireworks.
I will happily settle in front of my television set with my daughter, son in law, and granddaughters and excitedly wait for the orchestra to strike up John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” I will have my flag and march around my house while the orchestra strikes up the tune.
I’ve even included an audio clip of Stars and Stripes Forever at the top of this article so you can start a tradition of your own when you celebrate your version of Independence Day this year or next.
So Happy Birthday America. You’re in your 242nd year, with so much more work to do. But you’ve come a looong way from the early days when men and women dared to dream.
God Bless America. Happy Fourth of July!
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Carole Copeland Thomas is a 27 year speaker, trainer and consultant specializing in global diversity, empowerment, multiculturalism and leadership issues.