We will celebrate the birth of the American nation this week. The sky will fill with fireworks, flags will be flown and many American citizens will celebrate the colonists’ decision to declare their independence from arguably the most powerful nation on earth.
Nearly 250 years later, there is much to celebrate about the United States. It has become one of the handful of world powers. It stands still as a symbol for people from around the world.
From its origins, it embraced a high standard with the stirring eloquence of Thomas Jefferson’s immortal phrase, "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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
From the beginning, however, Jefferson’s rhetoric did not match his actions or that of founders of the American nation. Jefferson and his fellow Southern slave owners did not consider these individuals worthy of the same freedoms. Within 25 years of the Declaration, Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana territory eventually led to the removal of Native Americans as the United States embraced its "Manifest Destiny."
Like their forebearers nearly 250 years earlier, African-Americans and other people of color and women are airing their grievances and demanding substantive and lasting change to American society. As I have watched and studied the various incidents of which the death of George Floyd is merely one of the latest examples, I believe we might be watching a second American Revolution to complete the work of the idealistic American founders.
Mississippi’s long-overdue decision to remover the Confederate symbol from its own flag I hope will lead to the United States acknowledging its mistake in allowing symbols of a traitorous rebellion to flourish.
It is still far too soon to know what the ultimate legacy will be of the senseless murder of George Floyd, but I do think it will be a watershed event for African-Americans and people of color who have grown weary of burying their own without any lasting recourse.
Despite the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, despite Affirmative Action programs, the data suggests African-Americans still lag far beyond their white counterparts. Michelle Alexander has shown how incarceration policies have replaced Jim Crow. Ta-Nehisi Coates and others have shown how policies like redlining and the refusal to allow African-Americans to secure home loans have maintained these disparities.
This coming revolution is for women as well. In the past few years, the #MeToo movement has galvanized women of all ages to fight for their rights and for many of them to enter politics and public life in record numbers. Women are no longer willing to suffer sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.
As we celebrate 100 years of Women’s Suffrage, women, too, are demanding their full participation and equality within American life.
What these and other communities are seeking the same goal that Martin Luther King Jr. passionately aspired to nearly 60 years ago: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’"
The time has come to make this dream a reality.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.