Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s Fourth of July Celebration of Freedom Address is as follows. Check against delivery:
Good morning and happy Fourth of July. It is my great honor to welcome all of you, friends, neighbors, visitors and a very special guest and friend to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, to the birthplace of democracy, to the first capital of our great nation – the City of Philadelphia.
Over the last week, Philadelphia has been celebrating the 238th birthday of our nation with an incredible series of events to stimulate minds, hearts and taste buds, from promoting science, reading and a life-long love of learning at Go Fourth and Learn to honoring our returning military men and women and those who serve and protect us on the domestic front, our Police Officers, Firefighters and medics. Please recognize all of our military members and first responders with us today.
I’d like to thank Desiree Peterkin-Bell, City Representative and Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships for planning another fantastic Wawa Welcome America! festival, including today’s Celebration of Freedom Ceremony. I’d like to thank my wife, Lisa Nutter, President of Philadelphia Academies, Inc., for participating and for her education advocacy and the very talented and inspirational Debbie Allen for being with us today.
I’d also like to recognize the members of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen who were honored earlier – Major John L. Harrison and Flight Instructor Roscoe D. Draper. The Tuskegee Airmen stand tall as heroes in our American story. Their service to the nation deserves our deepest respect.
Independence Day is a time for us to reflect on the true meaning of freedom, which has changed drastically during our nation’s history.
Today, we know that to be free, one must have access to knowledge and an education, one must be able to exercise his thoughts and beliefs, one must feel protected and safe. One must know that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not a guarantee of success, but rather the equal opportunity to prosper, be happy, be successful, and not be oppressed.
On this Independence Day, we commemorate two important anniversaries in American history that demonstrate the American spirit, the belief in freedom and equality – the 60th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In Brown v. Board of Education, African Americans and many others raised critically important questions: were children of color receiving an education equal to that of white children? Was separate but equal producing well-educated, highly-skilled children of color? Could education be equal if there was an inherent difference in the accommodations, funding and experience between white and black children?
At the heart of the case was the issue of equal access to high-quality education.
In the Court’s decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “In these days it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right that must be made available on equal terms.”
Separate but equal was struck down as unconstitutional in the United States. Right now, the idea of separate but equal education is of particular issue for Pennsylvania. Across the Commonwealth, school districts are struggling under the burden of inadequate and unfair funding, unable to properly prepare our young people for the world of tomorrow. Separate but underfunded is wrong also.
Disinvestment or inadequate investment in public education should be unacceptable to every American citizen. I believe education is the Civil Rights issue of the 21st century – equality in education is vitally important to creating opportunities for every young person in our great nation to be successful.
In Pennsylvania, we have schools that are flush with resources and schools that are simply not: schools that can afford nurses and those that can’t; schools that have libraries and those that don’t; schools that have computers and new textbooks and schools that lack even the most basic necessities, like workbooks, pencils or paper.
And nationwide, despite the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, the fundamental disparities between communities of color and white communities in many areas changed very little. Those disparities — poverty, crime, incarceration, negative influences and poor health — continue to stifle classroom success for so many young people of color today.
As a nation, we must commit ourselves to the proposition that America cannot move forward unless every citizen is on a path to success.
That means fully and fairly funding education, so that every child has access to a high-quality learning experience. It means ending the pipeline to prison in which many of our young people find themselves trapped, and creating a new pipeline, a pipeline of opportunity.
That’s why I am proud to support President Obama’s efforts to implement practical, results-driven strategies that ensure young African American men and boys and all men and boys of color are on equal footing with their peers and have the opportunity to achieve the American dream through the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.
As important as creating opportunities for success is, we must also change the culture of violence in our black communities. Our young black men and boys are disproportionately both the victims and perpetrators of homicides in America. An entire generation wiped out, never living up to their potential, never contributing to our communities and country.
African American men make up 6% of the population but are 43% of homicide victims. That is an epidemic of violence.
Working in partnership with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and 62 mayors nationwide, we created Cities United, a national movement aimed at reducing the devastating number of violence-related deaths of young African American men and boys and their effect on our communities. We need to help our young black and brown men and boys turn from away from violence and toward education and success.
Brown v. Board of Education was an important step toward equality, freedom and oppportunity in America. It ended separate but equal practices, the physical manifestations of inequality, but it didn’t address institutionalized discrimination.
In his State of the Union Address in 1961, President Kennedy planted the seed of change, saying, “The denial of constitutional rights to some of our fellow Americans on account of race – at the ballot box and elsewhere – disturbs the national conscience, and subjects us to the charge of world opinion that our democracy is not equal to the high promise of our heritage.”
After President Kennedy’s assassination and under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, hope for a new era of equal opportunity grew with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, bringing America closer to that promise of our heritage – that all men are created equal.
As a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to enforce federal laws that made it illegal to discriminate in the workplace.
It also served as an important precursor of what was to come – the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – by requiring equal application of voter registration requirements to all.
For decades, blacks were denied the right to vote in elections across this country through the use of literacy tests and poll taxes. The passage of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution in January 1964 prohibited the use of a poll tax or any other tax as a condition to the right to vote in federal elections. But, the systematic disenfranchisement of African American voters still plagued many Southern elections.
In 1964, Mississippi’s population was nearly half black, but only 6% of African Americans were registered to vote.
In the summer of 1964, more than 700 college students, who were for the most part white Northerners, traveled to the South to register black men and women to vote in Mississippi.
That summer 50 years ago was called Freedom Summer. Those college kids built makeshift schools and taught black Mississippi children and adults to read and write and to understand their history and contributions to America. They started community centers. These brave young men and women risked their physical safety and, yes, in many cases, their freedom to empower Mississippi blacks.
In another Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Mississippi, three Civil Rights Activists went missing during Freedom Summer. After more than a month, the country learned of their fate. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were beaten and murdered on the day they went missing and buried in a shallow grave on the farm of one of their killers.
They were casualties in the fight for freedom and equality. During Freedom Summer, more than 80 activists were beaten and 1,000 were arrested. Their sacrifices weren’t in vain. Millions around the country were inspired by the bravery and courage of those voting rights activists. And today, Mississippi is the state with the largest number of black elected officials.
So, on this Independence Day, we must look at how far we have come and ask ourselves the question Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked of the nation, “Where do we go from here?”
We must go forward. We must continue to fight for freedom. We must work toward the equal opportunity of success for every American.
We must remember that there is a cost to freedom. During the Civil Rights Movement, people paid for freedom with their time and their lives. Today, we must ask ourselves what am I willing to do to help my fellow citizen, my neighbor, my community.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Americans stood for equality by fighting to sit at a lunch counter. Today, anyone in America can sit at that lunch counter. But, can they pay for their meal? How can a person pursue happiness, as our Founding Fathers said we had the right to do, if they lack the basic tools to compete in the global economy and function in our society?
You may think it isn’t your responsibility to help others succeed, but it is. Dr. King said it best, “…We are all tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects on directly affects all indirectly.”
We can never truly understand freedom, unless we are willing to help others. Freedom only means something if you do something with it.
This is my call to action. Do something for yourself. Do something for others.
Hire a person who has been in prison and paid their debt to society, so that they can truly be a returning citizen. We are our brother’s keeper.
Volunteer at your local school. Help a child learn to read. Help an adult learn to read. Read to your children. Perhaps then, we would know that words are more powerful than the sword.
Mentor a troubled teen, so they know that there is a way to succeed after failure.
Be a Graduation Coach. Help a young person acquire the skills they need to be competitive in this economy.
Clean up a park, so our children have a safe place to play.
Call your local representative and demand a greater investment in the next generation of students, demand more funding for public education. Then, maybe our children will carry a diploma, rather than a gun.
On this Fourth of July, remember that no matter our color or ethnicity, we are all members of one race – the human race; no matter our gender, we are all of one kind, human kind. And, we must all continue to work together toward a better America to ensure we are all free.
Free from violence, free from discrimination, free from despair and full of hope, full of the American spirit, full of the ability to be independent. That’s what it means to be free.
Thank you and God bless America.