This Fourth of July is a watershed for me. The day marks the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States declaring sovereignty from the British Empire. The second paragraph that reads
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
was often cited to highlight the hypocrisy of slavery as northern states began to abolish the practice in the late 1700s. The debate of slavery and states’ rights led to the split between the nation with the southern states declaring secession from the union.
Some say the history is complicated. The city I grew up in Virginia reflects this somewhat complicated history. My mom worked at Hampton University, home to the Emancipation Oak, where Lincoln freed the slaves. My dad worked at Fort Monroe, near the site where Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned for treason. So, why was there a middle school named in honor of Jefferson Davis, an imprisoned president on the losing side of the civil war? The band uniforms were replicas of the confederate soldier uniforms and of course there was that confederate flag. The southern states not only seceded from the union, but South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Georgia specifically cited slavery in their declarations of causes. In 1970, for me, the confederate flag at a middle school appeared as a total resistance to integration.
The aftermath of the racially motivated church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015 that left 9 African Americans dead has renewed the conversation about the confederate flag. The governors of several southern states have called for the confederate flags to be removed. Highlighting the complex history is some states cannot remove the flag because by law, the confederate flag must be flown. I am nervous that in weeks to come, those flags which for many symbolizes slavery and resistance to civil rights, will still fly.
As the US commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 this Fourth of July, I am hopeful that for me, the confederate flag that symbolizes the antithesis of all men are created equal will remain a part of history and not the present.