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Proclaim Liberty

February 29, 2012

Bell Tower, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, Photo by Mary Ann Reitano (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

“ ‘…He has sent Me…to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…’ ” (Is. 61: 1).

Philadelphia, this beloved city of ours, has a proud heritage. Not only was it the cradle of American liberty. Philadelphia was, also, an important locus on the Underground Railroad. Johnson family members and prominent abolitionist William Still were all based in the city. Between them, this Quaker family and free black man helped upwards of 800 slaves escape to freedom.

The Underground Railroad was, in fact, the first instance of widespread civil disobedience in the nation. Though estimates vary, the movement is thought to have supplied food, clothing, safe shelter, and transport to some 40,000 – 50,000 men, women, and children in pursuit of liberty.

The urban poor find no consolation in this history, if they are aware of it at all.

The Johnson House still stands but it is a relic, rather than the living monument it should be. Lost is the memory of brave men and women risking their lives to find freedom. Lost is the recollection of white and black Americans working together, even dying for one another.

Instead we hear sham calls for secession, as if a Civil War had not been fought on the issue, as if 650,000 lives had not been sacrificed on the altar of freedom. We hear talk that civil rights are now a settled matter, while inner city children of every color sit on rusted summer fire escapes or in sweltering apartments devoid of furniture for lack of anywhere better to go. We hear a black president – the first black President – referred to in snide and disrespectful terms, as if a baboon had somehow usurped the office. Articulated or not, acknowledged or not, the contempt toward him is palpable.

We witness a renewed assault on our precious right to vote, a Twenty First Century tactic familiar to the Reconstruction Era.  The men and women who shed their blood for our freedom must be turning in their graves.

As I write this, there are 12-27 million people enslaved around the globe, the majority women and children.  We are Americans. We should be the nation spearheading the fight against this heinous practice.  We should be leading by example.  We dishonor those who died for the cause of freedom, if we do not take up their banner.

Until we clean our own house, our 4th of July celebrations will ring hollow, especially in this city of patriots.


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