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John Andersen: Holiday reminds us of liberty, responsibility

John Andersen: Holiday reminds us of liberty, responsibility

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A very Happy Independence Day to you.

If you are celebrating, please be careful. The Fourth of July leads every other day in fires and injuries from fireworks. Please obey state and local regulations in the use of fireworks. Hopefully you will leave that to the pros.

That aside, it is only right to celebrate a great American on this day. No, not one of the founding Fathers, but an American known as the Great Dissenter. That would be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall Harlan (June 1, 1833 – October 14, 1911).

Justice Harlan wrote these words regarding the rights of man: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”

If we look back 153 years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg had just ended and Lee was leaving Pennsylvania. The Union Army, too exhausted and out of an abundance of caution, chose not to pursue Lee. Had it done so, the war may have been over by July 31, 1863.

Justice Harlan wrote the words above regarding the attempts of the south to once more force hardship on Blacks. Unfortunately segregation and Jim Crow laws followed. Justice Harlan dissented in the case and was proven right only after his death.

We in the United States have a strange sense of freedom. We believe that as a free country we cannot nor should not have our rights curtailed in any way, means or form.

We have forgotten that with rights bring responsibility. We need to relearn once again that people’s rights end when they clash with someone else’s.

Justice Harlan again: “In every well-ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint …….. real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.”

On this Independence Day, we are struggling with our history.

History is always a two-edged sword. We need to look closely at the time history was written and was it revised. I am amused that the 1939 motion picture “Gone With the Wind” has been sidelined. GWTW was made in 1939 and reflected the views or the time and the book of the same title by Margaret Mitchell.

My opinion is not that you set it aside but that you teach it.

Some of it is so embarrassing that the problems are obvious to anyone who has spent any time in a history or civics class. In the case of GWTW, you can tell kids that Hattie McDaniel was an American actress, singer-songwriter, and comedian. Hattie is best known for her role as “Mammy” in “Gone with the Wind,” for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was the first African-American to win an Oscar. Let’s celebrate that.

Part of the joy of July Fourth or Independence Day is that, setting aside all the conflict, it is a simple day; the United States declared that we were free and independent from our colonial master Great Britain.

We should enjoy this day in the way we have. Doing burgers, brats, hotdogs or whatever you choice is on the grill, having a beer or two, using Class C fireworks (nothing that goes up or blows up) should be part of our day. Flying the American Flag, going to the lake, seeing your family but keeping in mind social distancing and using common sense.

If you do so, this holiday can be as close to normal as we have had in a while.

Happy 244th Birthday America. We are not perfect but we are working on it.


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