Celebrating the Ninth of July

The freedoms that Americans celebrate on July 4 didn’t apply to many citizens until nearly a century later, when the 14th Amendment guaranteed all citizens equal protection under the law.

By Leroy Seat

Yesterday was Independence Day in the United States, but the Fourth of July is not one of my favorite holidays -- for various reasons -- but partly because the original Declaration of Independence, ratified on July 4, 1776, was primarily for white males.

While the words “all men are created equal” in the preamble were later greatly emphasized by the abolitionists, slaves were certainly not considered equal to their white owners in 1776.

And while some might argue that “men” was a generic term and not gender-specific, women in fact were not given the right to vote until 144 years later.

Thus, rather than celebrating July 4, I suggest it would be more appropriate for the people of this country to celebrate July 9. Why? Because the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on that day in 1868.

Through the years we have all heard much about the First and the Fifth Amendments, and recently especially about the Second Amendment. But for some reason many of us have not heard as much about the 14th Amendment.

In fact, it was not until I was in Arkansas in January 2011 and saw words of the 14th Amendment emblazoned on the wall of the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center that I began to grasp the significance of that constitutional amendment.

On the Fourth of July many Americans pledge allegiance to the flag, which, by the way, was not written until 1892 and has been recited in its present version only since 1954. As everyone knows, that pledge closes with the words “with liberty and justice for all.”

But that was hardly the reality for many people in the U.S. for long, long after July 4, 1776. The 14th Amendment greatly contributed toward making those words ring true.

And it is common to hear “The Star Spangled Banner,” the national anthem, sung on the Fourth of July. Even though we usually hear only the first verse sung, all four verses end with the words “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

But for decades after July 4, 1776, large numbers of people in the new nation were not free. The 14th Amendment helped to rectify that situation. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment includes these significant words

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Those are the words that led to the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in May 1954 and, consequently, to the integration of Central High School in Little Rock -- and other schools -- in 1957.

Ninety years earlier, in January 1867, Kansas became the ninth state to ratify the 14th Amendment. Missouri did so just two weeks later. Then when South Carolina ratified it on July 9, 1868, two-thirds of the states had done so. The amendment, therefore, became a part of the Constitution.

Yes, we U.S. Americans have, and will, celebrate the Fourth of July this week, as we should. But even though it is not a national holiday, let’s also celebrate the Ninth of July and commemorate the ratification of the highly significant 14th Amendment.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.