Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”And:
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
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.I was curious about the alliteration in that third paragraph ("Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall") and what each had to do with the national creed that "all of us are created equal."
In July of 1848, a two-day convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY hosted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. At that convention a document called the "Declaration of Sentiments" was discussed and voted upon (in the end, 100 out of the 300 attendees signed it). The document, patterned after the Declaration of Independence, demanded among other things the right of women to (gasp!) vote.
The 19th Amendment guaranteeing a woman's right to vote would not be ratified for 72 years.
In March of 1965, a series of marches took place to protest, among other things, the killing at the hands of the police of Jimmie Lee Jackson, an unarmed 26 yr old recently ordained deacon at a night time protest the previous month. As the Anniston Star puts it about what happened on the evening of February 18:
A few minutes into the confusion, perhaps 10 Troopers chased a group of protesters into a place called Mack’s Café just off Marion’s city square and directly behind Zion. From that point, nearly all historical accounts and press reports at the time agree the following happened:He died a few days later in the hospital. Of course he was served with an arrest warrant in his hospital bed.
As the Troopers entered the café they immediately started overturning tables and hitting customers and marchers alike. In the melee, they clubbed 82-year-old Cager Lee to the floor and his daughter Viola Jackson when she rushed to his aid. When her son, Jimmie Lee Jackson, tried to help his mother he was shot in the stomach by a state Trooper.
The first protest march took place March 7. The marchers were attacked by police with billy clubs and tear gas and the reaction was national. President Johnson introduced legislation 8 days later that became the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and on March 21 of that year, the National Guard was called out to protect them thousands of people marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest.
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law the following August.
According to these National Historic Landmark Nomination documents:
Stonewall is regarded by many as the single most important event that led to the modern gay and lesbian liberation movement and to the struggle for civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans. The Stonewall uprising was, as historian Lillian Faderman has written, "the shot heard round the world...crucial because it sounded the rally for the movement."And:
The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar located at 51-53 Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. As part of a pattern of raids and harassment of gay establishments, the bar was raided by the New York City police at about 1:30 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, June 28, 1969. The reaction of the bar's patrons and of the crowd that assembled in the street (which included a diverse segment of the gay community and other Greenwich Village residents and visitors) was not typical of such events. Instead of dispersing, the crowd became increasingly angry as the Stonewall's employees and patrons were arrested. Soon participants began chanting, throwing pennies, beer cans and other objects, and the police were forced back into the bar. Reinforcements were called in, and for several hours the police tried to clear the streets while the crowd fought back. Over the next few evenings the uprising continued. Two quiet nights followed before the final episode of street fighting occurred, late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, July 2nd and 3rd. The street events occurred outside the Stonewall Inn, in Christopher Park (across the street from the bar), along Christopher Street between Seventh Avenue South and Greenwich Avenue, and along adjacent streets, notably Waverly Place, Gay Street, Greenwich Avenue, Sixth Avenue and West 10th Street. At its peak, the crowd included several thousand people.The struggle continues and there's still a lot to do. I'll give the president the final word:
The struggle for gay rights did not begin that night, as groups had previously been organizing in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities to plead for the recognition of gay and lesbian people and for an end to discrimination. However, Stonewall marked a major change, as gay men and lesbians began to demand their rights vocally and assertively
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity -- until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.