C I V I L    M A R R I A G E    I S    A    C I V I L    R I G H T.

A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Independence Day, 2020

Photo by Saka8490 at Wikipedia, CC-4.0

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

--Abraham Lincoln, second inaugural address, March 4, 1865

While watching one of the memorial services for George Floyd last month, at which several people spoke from the pulpit, I was struck by the remarks of a grieving young woman, perhaps a teenager, who in the middle of saying her piece asked, contemptuously, "Make America Great Again - when has America ever been great?"

And while listening to newscasters and protesters and professional chatterati of all stripes during the past month, I have been distressed to hear pompous expressions and condescending judgments that seem to be based on the notion that nothing at all has changed in this country since 1965 - or indeed, since 1865.  Which seems quite wrongheaded to me; remembering vividly the segregated society of my childhood and youth, I could write a long list of things that have changed markedly for the better just in my lifetime, for all kinds and conditions of people, despite whatever seems to have gone wrong at present.

That is not to say that our country, or any one of us, has reached perfection yet.  We never will.  We can only continue working and reaching toward a more perfect union, even though our reach exceed our grasp.  Though we may always fall short of what we seek, the persistent striving for it is what counts.

How the nationwide disgust and outrage over the brutal murder of an innocent man got diverted into refighting the Civil War is a bit more than I can understand.  That conflict was ended, settled, and done with two centuries ago; and our enduring union was bought dearly, cemented with the blood of brothers from all parts of the land, all part of our one big American family:  Americans all, before and after the fight.

The enmities of that needless, senseless war were laid to rest long ago along with the bones of those who sacrificed themselves, as brave men in every age have done, in defense of their homes and families, and for what seemed to them the greater good in that day and time.  Mistaken or not, may they all rest in peace.  There is no North or South, no East or West, in the grave.

It is certain that those on both sides who survived the bloodshed were anxious to move forward as one people and bind up the nation's wounds, not tear them open again.  How much more so should we humbly desire to heal and reconcile with one another, we who live in this vastly different modern age, knowing and understanding so much more than they about all aspects of life on this fragile planet?

It seems to me that today's perils, conflicts, and injustices are what deserve our earnest attention and steady focus now.  The past belongs to the dead, who are beyond all praise or reproach; it is the present that belongs to us, the living - along with the sacred duty to carry on the good work that was begun, not ended, in 1776.  Lazily to castigate the past, which cannot be changed, instead of working hard to repair the present, which can always be improved, is a useless waste of time and spirit.

So today as we celebrate the nation's 244th birthday, I offer these musical selections as a reminder of the permanent possibility of progress  - now quick, now slow, but always upward - that has made the United States an inspiration to all the world from its beginnings, and will continue to do so, if only we remain one united people devoted to liberty, equality, and justice for all - in the enduring bond of brotherly love and mutual respect.

That is much easier to say than to do, of course.  But we must try anyway, and not be foolishly diverted from the essential issues that now confront us.  Though the forces of intolerance and disunity abroad in the land are bent on tearing us apart, I believe it is not yet too late for the better angels of our nature to prevail, and lead the American experiment onward to ever-greater heights.

Red and yellow, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, we are all Americans; we are heirs of the past but not bound to repeat it.  Let us fix what is broken and mend what is torn:  good neighbors and fellow workers in all the good we can do for our country.  Let us be friends; we must not be enemies.

Early or late, progress happens.  The story of how the following performance came about is too well known to repeat here.  The great American contralto Marian Anderson sings "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in April 1939:

The late actor and author Ossie Davis attended the concert as a college student, and here recounts what it meant to him:

In September 1942, Miss Anderson christened the Liberty ship Booker T. Washington in a shipyard in Los Angeles, and sang "The Star Spangled Banner" (the second half of the clip is silent):

Bonus: Miss Anderson sings Schubert's "Ave Maria" in the original German - one of the loveliest renditions I know of this sacred melody:


NW MAN said...

Excellent article. Thanks buddy

Davis said...

As fine a piece on the state of our nation as any I have read.

Russ Manley said...

Appreciate ya, fellas.

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