Philadelphia highlights the opposing truths at the start of the United States. On the one hand, the Liberty Bell with Independence Hall behind it shows the lofty ideals of the United States Constitution as written there in 1781. On the other hand, as a wonderful new exhibit in the Museum of the Constitution highlights, there was no freedom for the 20% of the population that was enslaved. As for the Natives, they were not considered citizens, so were not entitled “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as spelled out in the 1776 Declaration of Independence from England.
These are hard truths, and often Americans try to disguise them by saying things like “that was then, this is now.” But the appalling resurgence of white “nationalism” shows that many citizens really don’t grasp the truth that this was never a “white nation.” I am grateful that in Philadelphia, at least, there is an attempt to paint the whole picture of the reality at the start.
My reading continues as I try to fill in all the gaps left by my very whitewashed presentation of history in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I recently finished a massive biography of Frederick Douglass, and was gratified to find at the museum his original “pass” allowing him to travel in slave states since he was a free man. I also purchased a coffee mug with his face and the quote “Without struggle there is no progress.” It’s a good reminder that my country has a ways to go to reconcile truth with the myth of its beginnings.