When my dear friend Mary asked me to post on the Fourth of July I thought about the courage of the many Americans featured in my new book MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE: HOW ONE SONG REVEALS THE HISTORY OF CIVIL RIGHTS, illustrated by Bryan Collier.
- They lived out courage as they stood up for equal rights, using protest verses to the famous melody to plea for their cause.
- The courage of women in the 18th, and even 19th centuries, who wrote anonymous verses published in newspapers, demanding liberty for all Americans, not just white land-owning males. They knew if discovered they could be beaten, even divorced by their husbands or fathers for speaking out.
- Two hundred years of courageous slaves who ran away, facing possible death on their quest to freedom.
- The soldiers in the Revolutionary, Civil and all our many wars who had the courage to face guns to protect all our freedoms and the women and children who kept the home fires burning.
- The decades of labor protestors, men, women and children, with the courage to march and picket for better wages and working conditions, at cost to their jobs and safety of their families.
- The courage of the suffragists who marched in front of the White House, demanding the right to vote. When arrested, they almost died in prison and those that stayed home but almost lost their children, their husbands, their security.
- The courage of Native American activists like Zitkala-Sa who lived on this land first, but were treated like second-class citizens and sent to reservations until allowed to become American citizens in 1925.
- The courage of opera singer Marian Anderson who stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 and performed for 75, 000 people when the Daughters of the American Revolutions wouldn’t allow her to sing inside Constitution Hall because of the color her skin.
- The courage of Martin Luther King, Jr. who kept speaking out, over and over, even though he knew his life was in danger. When he spoke at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, his voice carrying across the crowds, “Let freedom ring, let freedom ring, let freedom ring.”
Our moments of courage may not be as brave or big as though above, but I believe that to be a citizen means to live with courage, allowing every American the right to speak and live in safety. Fifty years ago the Freedom Summer volunteers, black and white, had courage while registering voters in Mississippi. They risked it all so “freedom could ring.”
Talking about my new book and encouraging teachers to get their students to write new verses to this famous song may not be courageous. But these new verses give me hope that the next generation will “let freedom ring.”
Spokane teacher Patty Driscoll’s 5th and 6th graders wrote this new verse with the help of their music teacher:
My country ‘tis of thee
Let us be bully-free
No teasing found.
We are not all the same
Stop causing all their pain
Differences are not to blame
Freedom all around.
Claire invites classes and individual students to write new lyrics for a cause they believe in. Check out Claire's website for contest details.
Winners will be posted on Claire's website and become eligible to win a book or poster of Aretha Franklin singing at President Obama's inauguration. The contest is open September 1 - October 30th, 2014. Enter here...
In parting, Claire says, Sing one of your favorite patriotic songs this day. Let freedom ring.
Sounds like a great way to celebrate! Thanks, Claire.