Posted on July 27, 2021


First of all, we—the United States—are a big and complex country. There is no one philosophy, one political expression, one economic truth or any other large label to explain what we are, no matter how loud people shout the “truth.” Some will always challenge a generality, and that particular virtue—the right to challenge and question any great verity—is, BTW, one of our strengths.

At the founding of the Republic, the concept and practice of “liberty” conflicted with the continued existence of slavery. “Freedom” also was a cherished calling card of the Revolutionary period when the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, came into existence. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” but the most devoted slaveholders, not simply in the South but scattered throughout the border and northern states, argued otherwise.

This was also the prelude to age of capitalism, a term to describe the engine that drove the industrial revolution which was to produce so much wealth and prosperity in the Europe and the United States of the nineteenth century. And slavery was the keystone of the Southern economy built on growth and export of cotton, so crucial for the textile mills of both Europe and New England at the heart of this industrial revolution, and so it had to be protected.

But philosophically, and politically, liberty was at odds with slavery. Furthermore, slavery in the United States was particularly associated with Africans. Slavery of indigenous American peoples had never gotten much of a toehold in American culture or civilization, and slavery as an institution had indeed ceased to exist in the England that colonized North America. So, when slavery took a toehold in 1619 when the first shipload of Africans was brought into Virginia and eventually enslaved, slavery became associated particularly with Africans, not whites or Indians. And since slavery implied a dominance by the slave owners over the slaves to ensure authority and rule, it became the rule to look down upon uneducated and poor slaves as not being the equals of the white owners who governed.

That there was a deep contradiction between African slavery and the principles of liberty and freedom was obvious to thinkers and activists in the colonies, such as Jefferson and his cohort. What to do about it?

That dilemma between slavery and the principles of liberty, equality and freedom led to the Civil War. Yet, according to the critical race theory (CRT) race, not liberty, has always been the most important ingredient in the making of the American civilization.

Statue of Liberty, New York skyline

But what was it that made America “exceptional” in the words of another interpretation of the overall culture of America? Was it what followed the Civil War in the South: Jim Crow laws and segregation? Or was it liberty and freedom that created the sinews and strengths and wealth of America in the second half of the nineteenth century and throughout the entire twentieth century?

What drew—and still draws—immigrants to America? Was it the continued racial subordination of Blacks by whites until the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s that brought an end to official segregation? Was it the old racist South that created the modern economic engines built by the likes of Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Ford and the modern engines of today’s world coming out of minds and genius of a Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of Apple and Microsoft?

Finally, how has liberty and freedom persisted and dominated our history as race has diminished? Martin Luther King, Jr., certainly the most influential leader of the modern Civil Rights movement, was precisely born into and able to work within the overall framework of liberty, even conscribed by Jim Crow and Uncle Tom.

King’s greatest contribution was not only to embrace liberty and freedom for ALL Americans, but to do it within his Christian devotion to love, and faith, and hope. I just reread many of his quotations. They are about love and faith, not race and hate.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I also was reminded of the depth and breadth of his vision, spoken simply so all Americans could absorb it.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

And: “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love, they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So, love your enemies.”

Published as “Country finds strength in embracing liberty and freedom for all,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday July 11, 2021

Posted in: History