Last Wednesday on July 4 we celebrated our nation's 242nd birthday. This annual celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is a time to give thanks for the principles of freedom and equality at the heart of our national heritage. Yet from July 4, 1776 to the present, there have always been those excluded from the "American Dream." The author of the Declaration was a slave owner as were others who signed that founding document. In each generation, we have struggled with living into the promise inscribed over the entrance to the Supreme Court building "Equal Justice Under Law." As Americans and followers of Jesus, we do not deny or shy away from the reality of injustice in our country. Motivated by the Biblical call to justice, we are called to live as citizens who work to make our nation better by exposing injustice and advocating for greater levels of justice for all people. The African American poet Langston Hughes captured the reality of celebrating our founding principles while at the same time recognizing how far we have to go to fulfill them. Here is a portion of his poem "Let America Be America Again:
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe. (There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”) Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars? I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!
On this week after the 4th of July, take some time to reflect on the words written by Langston Hughes in 1935 as they relate to the reality of America in 2018.