It’s a weighty word. In America, the “land of the free”, it is well-used and well-loved. It brings us back to this nation’s roots, and reminds us why we lead the lives we do today.
Under the Constitution, we are awarded many individual freedoms. Freedom of what we say; of spiritual practice; to own guns; to secure our houses… we have rights and freedoms, even in the event of arrest.
Today, National Freedom Day, was inspired by the date in 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln signed Amendment 13, which outlawed slavery within the United States.
Major Richard Robert Wright, Sr. fought for this day to be recognized.
Freedom doesn’t discriminate
Wright was a former slave who, after his emancipation, graduated valedictorian at Atlanta University. He went on to serve as the first black paymaster in the Army, and held the highest rank of any black officer in the Spanish-American War.
Credited for founding a bank, a high school and a college, Wright was also a little-known civil rights activist.
He wrote a letter to President Truman about the mistreatment of an African-American veteran by the police force. As a result, Truman formed a Committee on Civil Rights, which led to the desegregation of the Justice Department and the military.
Each year Wright invited national and local leaders to meet in Philadelphia to commemorate the signing of the 13th Amendment. After his death in 1947, a bill was passed to make February 1 National Freedom Day. It was the forerunner to Black History Day, and eventually Black History Month.
Freedom, to Wright, meant opportunity.
When he was born, he was literally owned by another human being; his choices in life were restricted to what he could do on a plantation. When his freedom became law, he was given the chance at an education, military service, and a career in business.
Freedom means something different to everyone.
The textbook definition is: “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you can go out and trash someone’s car or shout “fire!” in a packed theatre; society only functions correctly when one person’s freedom doesn’t harm or infringe upon others. This allows us to have personal autonomy, as well as respect for everyone else’s.
Freedom, for some people, can be found in nature. In others it’s in the stroke of a paintbrush, the shutter of a camera, or the roar of an engine underneath them. It’s the ability to practice or create the life we want for ourselves — whatever that may be.
One of the reasons we are entitled to this freedom is the men and women who fight in our Armed Forces.
From 1776 to present, the American military has protected both the rights of individuals and the rights of the government. When our country has been threatened, people have been inspired to give up their careers and comfort to go uphold our values thousands of miles away. At the risk of life and limb, American troops stand strong for freedom.
This is not to say that America is the only country with civil liberties. However, in many places, people are restricted from travel, speaking openly, and even access to information. The 25 million citizens in North Korea, for example, are suffering in a regime that offers virtually zero freedom.
The Four Freedoms
In a 1941 speech, President Franklin Roosevelt outlined four freedoms that every human should be entitled to:
- Freedom of speech and expression
- The ability to worship God in their own way (or not to)
- Freedom from want and
- Freedom from fear
As Americans, we live in a nation that actively works to offer these four essential freedoms to each of its citizens. It’s important to have gratitude for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who contribute every day to this way of life.
John F. Kennedy once said, “The great revolution in the history of man, past, present and future, is the revolution of those determined to be free.”
With this in mind, what does freedom mean to you?