Happy Independence Day!
It may seem early to be celebrating Independence Day in America, but in fact today is the celebration of the liberation of African American slaves in Texas in 1865. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. America’s political and economic separation from the tyranny of England, as fundamentally revolutionary as it was, represented just one step in a long process of moving from greater government control over the individual to respect for the rights of each man (and eventually even each woman) to do as he wished with his own property – including his own mind and body.
As far as we have come, we are still walking this path. True emancipation will come when no person or group of people can command others to do as they wish, to finance their projects, or to not do something that harms no one else. We are a long way from that day, but the fact that we can even recognize this as a goal is a measure of the real revolution in human thought – that each individual belongs to no one but him- or herself, and that no one has the right to rule over another.
So this month we will celebrate the emancipation of slaves from those holding them in bondage. Next month we will light up the skies to remember the revolution which excited the longing for emancipation in men’s hearts. And every day we should keep in mind these words of Frederick Douglass, who taught us that gaining and keeping our freedom is a perilous undertaking, but one worth the hardship:
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
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