Let July Fourth be a catalyst for us to unite anew

The parades won’t be marching past nor fireworks bursting overhead for most of us Saturday. The Fourth of July is next in the unyielding procession of “This is not our normal (fill in the blank)” occasions.

Backyard barbecues and pool parties that are held will hopefully by socially distanced or face-mask friendly or both as we find ways to gather while balancing socializing with safety. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter life as we knew it. The freedoms we once had when it came to our comings and goings, our exchanging and embracing, our working and playing have been curtailed over the last several months, painfully so in many cases.

Independence is a value we Americans guard fiercely. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is how our revolutionary forebears enshrined it, and early July is when we come together as a people annually to extol the liberties that form the bedrock of our Republic.

It hurts that we can’t celebrate in the ways that help enliven this holiday. The absence of festivities may even compel some to consider an alternative reality in which July 4 is just another summer day. We suppose it likely would be if that uprising in 1776 had been summarily extinguished by the heavily favored British Army. What if freedom had never reached the shores of those 13 colonies?

Last month our nation collectively took notice like never before of Juneteenth, a day celebrating the liberation of those who had not been included by those who purported to create a “perfect Union, establish Justice ... and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. But for slaves living in the far-flung outpost of Galveston, Texas, news that their chains of forced labor had been legally unshackled didn’t reach their ears until June 19, 1865.

Thirteen years earlier, escaped slave turned statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass pointed out the hypocrisy of America’s celebration of Independence Day.

“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me,” he said. “The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth (of) July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

The mourning continues today as the full blessings of liberty remain an unfulfilled promise. But we have hope that a new light of justice is shining.

Crisis can bring out the best in a people, and it can bring out the worst. As we grapple with these simultaneous seismic social events, let us be thankful we do so in a land that has shown an ability to overcome its own mistakes and failings to rise to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Those original colonies set out on a unprecedented course, just as our now 50 states find ourselves in uncharted territory in an effort to stamp out racism and a pandemic.

We don’t need parades to do that leg work. We just need each other, walking together to a brighter future.