I have the good fortune of teaching the Declaration of Independence to my students in a first year writing course. I note that American history can be understood as fulfilling the promise that all of us are created equal, have certain inalienable rights, and to secure these rights we have instituted government deriving its powers from consent of the governed. This was one of the memorable points King made in his I Have a Dream Speech.
Much on the left has been made of Obama's reference to events which moved us forward in fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence.
Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. The alliteration of that litany made it seem obvious and inevitable, a bit of poetry just there for the taking. Just waiting to happen.I wonder how many of our fellow citizens actually even recognize their meanings.
Here is the passage in which Obama cited those three events.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.Last night my local Democratic Party celebrated the inauguration and I wondered whether many of my local Democrats knew anything about Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall.
There was a high school sophomore who has not yet taken a US history course. He had no idea. His mother had some vague recognition that Selma had something to do with the Civil Rights Movement. (She place it in Mississippi.) A good friend and a very active member in the party told me she recognized them but couldn't explain any of them.
There was a three-piece jazz band that played music. They are all students at the university I teach. None of them knew much. One had heard about Selma.
One of the talking heads on MSNBC, I believe, said that most young people (under 30?) would know Stonewall. That struck me as seriously wrong. I don't believe Stonewall is in any major high school US history textbook and is not well-known. Is it? Perhaps, Seneca Falls and perhaps Selma but I doubt any high school textbook mentions the significance of Stonewall.
Should every graduate of an American high school know what those three terms represent?
I graduated high school in 1968. I knew all three references. Two of them are my lived history.
Did you know the references before the speech or did you learn about them by reading columns like Bruni's or some other left site that explained each one?
I suspect that most of our fellow citizens, even our fellow Democrats, don't know what Obama was referencing. What do you think?