Let Freedom Ring, Again and Again!



This year, Micah and I visited Williamsburg, Virginia, for our wedding anniversary. It was apropos to tour Colonial Williamsburg this time of year. The visit reminded us of the upcoming holiday inspired by the situation of 1775–1776 when the tension between England and the Colonies gave way to the American Revolutionary War. John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore, was then governor of Virginia. Rumor had it that he, along with other governors had communicated to the King of England that there was an uprising among the dwellers of the colonies. They wanted their independence from Britain!

British armies came to the colonies. War began! Patrick Henry would become the governor of Virginia after the war. A patriot indeed, remembered for his famous declaration: \”Give me liberty or give me death!\”

After the war, just as the founders of the country began to organize the United States as a Democratic Republic, some say that Thomas Jefferson mentioned the issue of freeing the slaves in a meeting at the historic Courthouse in Colonial Williamsburg. However, his proposal was met with resistance based heavily on economic reasons. If the slaves were freed, they felt that the foundation of the country would quickly become economically week.

After all, black people made up approximately 52% of Williamsburg by the late 18th century. The rest of the colonies had achieved their fair share of slaves, also. The slaves were primarily responsible for the day-to-day manual labor that it took to develop the colonies. The colonists would have had high expectations that the slaves would be the actual workers to build the soon-to-be United States of America.

Additionally, the English colonists maintained the historic sentiment that black slaves were of a race other than the human race. This had been the mindset from early-on when the Englishmen discovered dark skinned Africans. This misconstrued mindset that was handed down for several generations by the 18th century most likely blinded them from the obvious reality that true freedom was not fulfilled as long as they were holding people in slavery.

The whole concept of \”race\” was manufactured to locate black slaves in an animal kingdom by themselves – of lower creature status than the Europeans. So, when the colonists agreed to the declaration that \”all men were created equal,\” they were not psychologically bent towards a conclusion that such eloquent words included black people and women.

\"founding-fathers-declaration-of-independence\"While I am inclined to believe that those as intelligent as Jefferson, Madison and some of the other founding fathers must have at least thought of the future ramifications of this language of \”all men are created equal\” there seems to have been a blinder over the general public\’s eyes as to the depth of that important statement in the Declaration of Independence as pertaining to slavery.

While the colonists enjoyed the early benefits of freedom from British rule, they continued to incessantly and with greater and greater pressure oppress black slaves. American slave history reveals that as the United States were organized, so did the leaders of the states organize laws of great oppression to systematize slavery, socialized racial bigotry, and the proliferation of slavery among the people (i.e. consider the laws of early 1800s in retaliation to the 1807 illegalization of trans-contenental slave trade such us the ones that prohibited slaves from marrying each other, the intensified punishments on slaves).

It is interesting how a group of people can enjoy the benefit of the very thing they deprive others of enjoying. After all, freedom from oppression is a human desire, a human right. The colonists saw freedom as having such sacred worth when it would benefit them, but they saw freedom with blinded eyes when it came to those whom they oppressed. In Europe, however, John Newton, the slave trader, met God\’s amazing grace and his blinded eyes were open to the existential oppression inflicted upon black slaves. Why couldn\’t the colonists/earliest American revolutionizers who claimed to be Christian see what Newton saw?\"Frederick_Douglass_c1860s\"

Nearly a hundred years after the American Revolution, Frederick Douglass praised the insurmountable patriotism, heroism, and intelligence that the leaders of the American Revolution possessed. At the same time, Douglass pointed out the great contradiction that plagued the same revolution.  As for the so-called Christians, Douglass called them hypocrites. His speech \”The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro\” expounds upon the undeniable hypocrisy that weaved its way through the fabric of early American development.

In the words of Frederick Douglass, \”Am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?\” This profound question is momentous in black experience of American history– a version of American history that is far too romanticized. We have Douglass, Sojourner Truth and several other unnamed men and women (abolitionists) to thank for their unsung patriotism, bravery and intellect, along with the founders of this country. The American abolitionists were the patriots who fought the extra fight. Their fight birthed rationality in the American conscience which in turn gave way to the abolition of slavery in 1863.

Moreover, my patriotism is strong; my allegiance is to all of those Americans who fought for human freedom.

Because of the abolitionists like Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth , also supportive white abolitionist Christians and President Abraham Lincoln and many others who fought for the liberation of black people since the nineteenth century, Douglass\’s critique of the fourth of July is reversed. Douglass said (in part):

I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

If Douglass and countless other men and women of centuries past could be here today, undoubtedly, they would join me in flipping his agony to joy. Douglass\’ speech (in part) might look something like this:

I say it with a [joyous] sense of the [freedom] between [blacks and whites]. I am [-] included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the [-]measurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, [are] enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, [and by in large part] by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, [and almost fully] mine. You may rejoice, I must [rejoice as we fight the good fight together to get the fullness of freedom].

Lincoln\’s 1863 \”Emancipation Proclamation\” was an important milestone in the fight for black Americans to enjoy freedom but the path of implementing the fullness of that freedom has been long and rough. Jim Crow was the next evil to hinder progress in realizing the fullness of freedom. One hundred years removed from Lincoln\’s proclamation, blacks were still held hostage by the evils of racism. The Civil Rights Movement broke the back of Jim Crow. Yet, there remains the evils of racism permeating through systems and in the social conscience of American life. Today, while, in the United States of America, we do have a long way to go for true equality, and we have much for which to be thankful.

With the fullness of the American fight for human freedom in mind, my family and I celebrate what this country has meant to us. Yet, with the need of world freedom in mind, today ignites within me the desire to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. The fight for freedom is not over until all people of the world enjoy the \”sacred and undeniable\” truth (Jefferson\’s original wording for the Declaration of Independence) that all people are created equal.

We must not go backwards. We must go forward. How do we think about freedom in light of the overwhelming issue of human trafficking, the issue of immigration injustice, disproportionate disparities along racial lines as pertaining to economics, education, incarceration, police crimes, etc? Can we be truly free while unborn babies are restricted the right to pre-natal care and safe birth? Can we be truly free while women are restricted the right to equal pay for equal work? Freedom must be systematized as well as socialized. A critical analysis reveals that we have come a long way but have a long way to go.

Let\’s rejoice, but not as if we have arrived. Together we rejoice because we know the value, the joy of freedom. Moreover, we should fight together that everyone experiences the margins of freedom that each of us enjoy. I urge my fellow Christian Americans to join together in the fight for holistic freedom that John Newton\’s experience of \”Amazing Grace\” teaches us. Join in the fight for holistic freedom that our country\’s founding fathers claimed to be \”self-evident;\” join in the fight for freedom for everyone – that freedom that we claim to be divinely bestowed and freely enjoyed in these United States of America. It is only as real as it is in the lives of our citizens.

\"\"As a conclusion, the final lines from Martin Luther King Jr.\’s 1963 \”I Have A Dream Speech\” seem appropriate as part of the American (particularly Black American) celebration of the Fourth of July. It was delivered in Washington DC between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument to jolt the American conscience concerning the original claim – freedom for all – that was passed on to us from our founding warriors that noble day, July 4th, 1776. On August 28th, 1963, King approached the podium with this American value of the Fourth of July in mind. Critiquing the American experience of freedom – one that we must continue to revisit – King closed his speech with this:

This will be the day when all of God\’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, \’My country, \’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim\’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.\’

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God\’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, \’Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!\’



Dr. Antipas L. Harris
Welcome to my blog

This blog site is where I share matters related to society, the church, and the academy. I hope my thoughts are meaningful to you. Theology

Read More »