On this peculiar and profound 4th of July, 2020, I marked both my parent’s 68th wedding anniversary and the 244th birthday of the United States of America in a somber mood. While moments of pure contentment and joy were shared with the Glickman girls in their backyard yesterday afternoon, the evening found me alone with my thoughts, my memories and my longing for the New York City that has vanished, for now, in the wake of the Pandemic, magnified by watching the Macy’s fireworks display on TV. On the macro level, my heart ached knowing that our broken democracy has systemically denied justice in every realm of our civil society to the majority of Black Americans. Yet, watching “Hamilton,” immersing myself in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s brilliant musical translation of Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, allows me to believe that this moment in American history is in fact, the next great movement of our democracy toward the ideal of Liberty and Justice for All.
The dictionary on my shelf, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, defines “vice” as follows: “(n)1. An evil, degrading, or immoral practice or habit; a serious moral failing. 2. Wicked or evil conduct or habits; indulgence in degrading practices; depravity; corruption.” Alexander Hamilton’s genius was his ability to devise a financial system for this new nation while at the same time acknowledging that the institution of slavery was a vice. He spoke out against the evil of slavery, the degradation embedded within a system that viewed other human beings as property, the immorality of a civil society that permitted wealth to be accumulated by slave labor. During his too short life however, he was too often silent and complicit. For the sake of the new nation, “in the room where it happened,” compromises were made that have compromised the moral core of the United States since its inception. Most fundamentally, Hamilton accepted the idea that Black people would be counted as 3/5 of a person in the Constitution, in order to ensure that the Southern states would join the fledgling Union. Systemic degradation embedded in the country’s foundational documents. Shameful.
The version of American history that I learned in Akron, Ohio in the 1960’s and 1970’s, enhanced by my political science and law studies, acknowledged the rot of slavery and celebrated the Civil Rights Movement and the legislation enacted in its wake. Yet, as I looked around me throughout my adult life, I saw that Equal Justice Under the Law remained and continues to remain an ideal, not a reality. Despite a good public education, I never learned about the destruction of the Black Wall Street in Tulsa nor did I understand the significance of Juneteenth. I never knew that there was a Black National Anthem until I learned it in advance of last month’s Rally for Racial Justice. Watching the colorful explosions above New York City last night, I wondered how many Black Lives Matter activists cared to watch fireworks and if so, did they see in those fireworks the spark of concern, compassion and conviction felt by Americans who are adding their voices to the demand that the time for Racial Justice is now? As We the People face this national reckoning on race in America, the fuller version of American history is coming into full view. That “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National anthem was part of the Macy’s firework’s soundtrack, is evidence that the American patriotic songbook is evolving to include the music and stories of Black Americans.
In the weeks since the Beachwood Rally , I have thought about my next steps in this movement for Racial Justice in all aspects of American civil society. I anticipate an interesting meeting with the two female law students who I engaged with during and at the end of the Rally, planning to take the advice of wise friends and do more listening than speaking, for a change. I hope we can walk away from our meeting seeing the other more clearly, understanding each other’s point of view and finding those points where we can literally stand on common ground.
The poster for the Rally for Racial Justice was a modification of Lady Justice, having taken off her blindfold, holding it at her side instead of the sword, gazing upward with a look of despair. The concept behind the graphic was simple: without her blindfold, Lady Justice finally sees the gross injustices in our American democracy. The simple fact that it is the year 2020 leads right into the impassioned hope that both We the People and Lady Justice will have 20/20 vision in the days, weeks and months ahead. And with that 2020 vision may we have the will, the energy and the opportunity to lift our voices and use our votes to demand Racial Justice Now.