From freedom’s birthplace to Freedom Summer

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Photo by Flickr user Derek Bruff.

By Rev. Paul Graves

The park ranger set the scene in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall). She told of the Continental Congress debating whether to declare independence from Britain in 1776.

I began to imagine the appointed “committee of five” (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman) disagree and compromise as they perfected Jefferson’s document. We know it as the Declaration of Independence.

Its preamble famously begins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The word “freedom” isn’t found there. But the power and value of “freedom” nourish every word.

Our family spent the day drinking in some of the historical background of Philadelphia’s central role in America’s fight for freedom. Our eyes, hearts and minds were opened to the fight that still continues on so many levels.

The year 1776 is 248 years ago. It’s not really a long time as we reflect on how much our country has grown and how much potential maturity we have before us.

In those 248 years, freedom has been a taken-for-granted privilege for many, an unattainable reality for many, and a hard-fought achievement for many. For all of us, freedom has been more fragile than any of us care to think about!

But in this 2024 election year, we must consider the fragility of freedom. As we reflect on freedom’s valuable vulnerabilities, we’d also be wise to look at the fragility of “truth” in our culture today.

Jesus’ famous words from John 8:32 asserts that “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” I don’t know what our founding fathers thought about that assertion.

But I know when truth is up-for-sale (like disinformation masquerading as “truth”), so are the concept and the reality of freedom. For years, I’ve used the term “truth-pieces” to describe how we dabble much more in bits of truth rather than capture the full truth of anything.

We must embody humility and courage to admit we don’t know – let alone possess – the complete truth of anything. Until we do that, I don’t think we’ll be humble or courageous enough to hold our freedoms in our hands like the fragile birds they are.

Which brings me to the 1964 Freedom Summer. Sixty years ago, an incredibly audacious, root-deep radical effort was organized to increase voter registration among Black Americans in Mississippi. This campaign began with the murders of three Black CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) workers – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – in June 1964.

The horrors and the hopes of Freedom Summer 1964 are written about by Eddie Wong, a longtime Asian American political activist. His enlightening January 2024 article, “How Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964 Can Inspire Us in 2024,” is found in Convergence magazine.

Freedom Summer’s complicated and dangerous efforts included 1,000 white college students volunteering with Black Mississippians to embody the truth-piece that “all men/women are created equal.” That could happen when those Black Americans could vote freely. Tragically racist-based voter suppression still happens in America.

Yet remarkably, Freedom Summer 1964 still shows some very positive effects in 2024. Its legacies of Freedom Schools and Freedom Vote still ring clearly in the ears and hearts of freedom seekers. Especially this summer.

Freedom and truth continue to be fragile. Political contests are regularly characterized as good versus evil, or democracy versus autocracy. Whatever the code language, voting is critical to America’s Freedom. Please register to vote. Then vote!

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