Today is ‘American Independence Day’, the 4th of July. ‘American Independence Day’ in the United States commemorates July 4th, 1776. This was the day when the ‘Continental Congress’ declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to King George 111, the monarch of Great Britain, and were now united, free, and independent states. The Congress had voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2, but it was not declared until July 4th. Independence Day is the national day of the United States. This national holiday in America witnesses fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, political speeches, and ceremonies, in addition, there are public and private events celebrating the American history, government, and traditions of the United States.
America has had a considerable bad press ever since Donald Trump became its President, especially when many of his speeches and tweets are said to have held racist overtones. America’s institutional racism has come to the fore, particularly with the death of George Floyd whilst in police custody in May, and the worldwide ‘Black Lives Matter’ mass protests point to the many black deaths at the hands of arresting police officers in the United States.
While recognising the continuous presence of institutional racism in the United States ever since the days when the enslavement of Africans was common trade in the commercial world, right through to the unacceptable segregation practices enforced upon the American black citizen, and the denial of their electoral and other rights prior to the success of the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ in the 1960s, plus any intentional or unintentional racism since one should not blame all white Americans for these failures towards their black brothers and sisters.
Throughout the 20th century, many white peaceful protesters marched alongside their black brothers and sisters to agitate for the equal rights of American black citizens. Also, it would be remiss to completely forget that the very existence of the United States of America today came about in some measure because of the Northern states entering into civil war with the southern states, where one of the causative factors included the abolition of slavery in the Southern states. Black and white academics and historians hold different perspectives about other causative factors relating to the outbreak of the civil war.
What cannot be denied, however, is that for the past century, America has generally had an open-door immigration policy, and has offered a better (if not always equal) lifestyle to so many nationalities of all race and colour; probably more than any other country on the face of the earth; save Great Britain. That is why Great Britain and America are the two most popular countries in the world that most immigrants chose to live if given the opportunity.
Between 1963-65 I lived in Canada, during which time I used the opportunity to travel around some of the American states. At that time, the United States was no more united than it had been during the years of the civil war, over two hundred years earlier. Down in the southern states, racism, segregation, white supremacist movements such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), denial of the black person’s vote, and unwarranted violence against black citizens went largely unchallenged until the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ led by the late Martin Luther King Jnr (Baptist Minister and ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ recipient in 1964) pressed peacefully on for a change. Like Mahatma Gandhi advocated before him, Martin Luther King Jnr also urged his followers not to physically return the blows that the police showered down on them with their batons and rifle butts.
The United States that I saw in 1964 presented a huge contrast between the American citizens on each side of the social and racial divide. I saw the opulent rich and the poor citizen (black and white) exist on soup kitchens and food parcels given out by charitable sources. I saw poor people who died or went without vital health care because they were unable to afford medical care. I saw poor white citizens who lived in the backs of trucks and in shacks and caravans all their lives. I saw the hard-manual workers do long shifts for poor pay, and like many black citizens in England at the time, I witnessed the black American man and woman performed the lesser and more menial jobs than their white counterparts would not do.
But I also witnessed in most American citizens (including the many immigrants) a deep respect for their country and the National Flag. Each day at school, and at all national gatherings, citizens young and old would publicly pledge allegiance to their flag and country.
What really struck me, however, was their belief in ‘the American Dream’; that any man or woman, with hard work and constant diligence could become a source of infinite wealth and power, whether or not they had two cents to rub together when they started. The typical American displayed a ‘get up and go’ attitude allied to their belief that anything was achievable through hard work. And this was the ‘American Dream’ that new immigrants brought with them and their families as they entered Ellis Island in New York between 1892-1954 as they first set eyes upon the famous ‘Statue of Liberty’. Official registers from the Port of Ellis Island confirm that over 12 million immigrants arrived and were processed there. Each one carried with them the dream that in America, anything is possible. And the strange thing is, I still believe, it is. I hope it is!
My song today for all Americans the world over. It is, ‘America’ that Neil Diamond sang in the film ‘The Jazz Singer’.
Love and peace Bill xxx