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.” (1) These words were taken straight from our Declaration of Independence, which the Continental Congress signed on July 4th, 1776. Many pilgrims gave life their life attempting to free themselves from the grasp of the British Crown. But as great as this declaration is, there remains one phrase included in this very document that we, America, still struggle with today. The founders of this nation fought for freedom, but somewhere along the way we forgot this phrase; “We hold this truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” As America developed into the world power we are today, we refused to give our brothers and sisters the equality they deserve simply because their skin color was different from our. Even though we relatives fought a war that became a quest for setting slaves free, we never won that war. In fact, I believe that in many ways we are still fighting that same war today. We are no longer fighting with guns, as we did in the Civil War; however, the attitude of the majority of American citizens towards their fellow citizen of a different color is the same.
Today, we look at the Civil War as an act of intervention by the government at the time to put an end to a corrupt way of human treating. In reality the Civil War’s initial purpose was to preserve the Union. Slavery was a cause of the Civil War but it was not the cause of this war. “The Emancipation Proclamation declared ‘forever free’ the slaves in those Confederate states still in rebellion” (2) It wasn’t until President Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd, of 1862 that the Civil War became a war over slavery’s abolition. The war didn’t end until Gen. Lee surrender on April 9th, 1865. So our nation fought nearly three years over slavery, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “the state of a person who is a chattel (personal possession) of another.” (3) As liberating as we see the Civil War was for blacks, basically the only thing it did was keep them from being enslaved. There were still racial issues for them in the North and the South. In some places, blacks couldn’t get a job because of his or her skin color. It took a Civil War, in which a minimum of 618,000 people died (4) for our nation to realize that slavery was not only wrong but also unconstitutional. As much as the Civil War taught us about the equality of people, we still haven’t completely remembered that our forefathers said, “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.”
The year 1955 is another example of what I call The Unfinished War. It was in this year that two black women refused to give their seat on the bus to a white person. These events sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and what we refer to now as the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. About 90 years after the Civil War ended, Dr. King began the work that should have been completed immediately following the Civil War. The North freed the blacks from slavery through the Civil War, but did not treat them equally afterwards. On August 28th, 1963, Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. By giving this speech Martin L. King brought the real issue to the table by saying, “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.”” (5) The significance of the phrase, “all men are created equal” is that it means that regardless of a person’s skin color, the language they spoke, or their social status, we all deserve the same treatment. But yet, once again we missed that point. Despite of the truth so boldly spoken in our Declaration of Independence and the war that our nation fought in order to set men free, we still held our black brothers under the same yoke of bondage as we did prior to the Civil War. This bondage was slightly different up to the end of the Civil Rights movements. Instead of being owned by someone, now they have to sit in the back of the buses, attend schools for only blacks, or get their food from the back of the restaurant. Dr. King along with others recognized how the treatment blacks received was once again wrong and also unconstitutional. It was this desire for fair and equal treatment that caused M. L. King to lead what we now know as the Civil Rights movement. But just as the Civil War took many years to come to a close, so did the Civil Right movement. Yes, after this movement, America has come a long way in treating people of different races equally. We now have integrated schools, laws that prohibit discrimination in the work place, seats on buses are now only reserved for the weak and elderly, but we have now also entered into a third phase of the discrimination issue.
In the Civil War it was enslavement of people, during the Civil Rights Movement (1955-1964) it was the issue of basic, everyday freedoms, and today the issue is either a continuation of the struggles of the 1950’s-1960’s, or also personal and individual discrimination. It is like we have decided that since we aren’t allowed to discriminate them in our work and school that we must do so in our personal lives, or have the generations that came before us simply refused to let go of the hatred that they held for the other ethnic group and in doing so they impact the way we, their future generations view each other?
Thankfully though, the number of people that discriminate towards blacks and other ethnic groups isn’t as large as it once was. Unfortunately though, it still exists in our nation. The town where I grew up is still very racial divided today. To the point where if a boss of a different skin color fires someone, it is assumed that the color of his skin is the reason why that individual lost their job. How can we be so blind and stupid to not understand what our founding fathers meant by, “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.”? How many more struggles must we go through before we understand “that all men are created equal”?
To sum it all up, the black community had to deal with physical discrimination before the Civil War, social discrimination before the Civil Rights Movement, andpsychological discrimination in our society today, all because we can’t accept someone for who they are instead of what their skin color is.
1. The Declaration of Independence
2. The American Pageant (HIUS 221 textbook) Page 460