We are created equal! No one of us is better than any of us! That’s the headline proclaimed in 1776 and inscribed across centuries in the truth of the ages. Those inspired words from the Declaration of Independence mock bigotry and anti-Semitism. Then why do I still hear race and color-haters spewing their poisons? Why do I still flinch at innuendoes of venom and inequality? Why do innocent children still grow up to be despised? Why do haters’ jokes still get big laughs when passed in whispers from scum to scum? You know the ones I mean – the “Some of my best friends are Jewish…” crowd.
As for the others, those cross-burning bigots to whom mental slavery is alive and well, I don’t envy their trials in the next world, where their thoughts and words and actions will be judged by a jury of One. Why do so many among us continue in words and deeds to ignore, insult and challenge the unforgettable words of Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence’s promise to every man, woman and child – the self-evident truth that all men are created equal?
That’s what the Fourth of July is all about. Not firecrackers. Not getting smashed on the patio sipping toasts to our forefathers. Not picnics and parades or freeways empty because America has the day off. Equality is what our Independence Day is about. Not the flag-wavers who wave it one day a year, but all who carry its message with them wherever they go, who believe in it, who live it enough to die for it – as so many have.
OK, I’m a saloon singer, by self-definition. Even my mirror would never accuse me of inventing wisdom. But I do claim enough street smarts to know that hatred is a disease – a disease of the body of freedom, eating its way from the inside out, infecting all who come in contact with it, killing dreams and hopes millions of innocents with words, as surely as if they were bullets.
Who in the name of God are these people anyway, the ones who elevate themselves above others? America is an immigrant country. Maybe not you or me, but those whose love made our lives possible, or their parents or grandparents. America was founded by these people, who were fed up with other countries. Those weren’t tourists on the Mayflower – they were your families and mine, following dreams that turned out to be possible dreams. Leaving all they owned, they sailed to America to start over and to forge a new nation of freedom and liberty – a new nation where they would no longer be second-class citizens but first-class Americans.
Even now, with all our problems, America is still a dream of oppressed people the world over. Take a minute. Consider what we are doing to each other as we rob friends and strangers of dignity as well as equality. Give a few minutes of fairness to the house we live in, and to all who share it with us from sea to shining sea. For if we don’t come to grips with this killer disease of hatred, of bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism, pretty soon we will destroy from within this blessed country.
And what better time than today to examine the conscience of America? As we celebrate our own beginnings, let us offer our thanksgiving to the God who arranged for each of us to live here among His purple mountain majesties, His amber waves of grain. Don’t just lip-sync the words to the song. Think them, live them. “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” And when the music fades, think of the guts of Rosa Parks, who by a single act in a single moment changed America as much as anyone who ever lived.
I’m no angel. I’ve had my moments. I’ve done a few things in my life of which I’m not too proud, but I have never unloved a human being because of race, creed, or color. And if you think this is a case of he who doth protest too much, you’re wrong. I would not live any other way; the Man Upstairs has been much too good to me.
Happy Fourth of July. May today be a day of love for all Americans. May this year’s celebration be the day that changes the world forever. May Independence Day, 1991, truly be a glorious holiday as every American lives the self-evident truth that all people are created equal. God shed His grace on thee – on each of thee – in His self-evident love for all of us.
July 4, 1991
Photo from “The House I Live In“