...the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
When my alarm clock went off at 6:00 this morning, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. The idea of turning it off, turning over, and going back to sleep was very appealing. After all, it's a holiday.
Instead, I dragged myself out of bed and, as I'd planned, headed off the the 49th Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony, at Monticello. I'm glad I did. It's an annual antidote to cynicism.
Jim. Monticello, 4 July 2011. [All photos copyright John Edwin Mason, 2011. Click on any of the images to see much larger versions.]
I've haven't always felt that way.
I've attended the ceremony 10 or 12 times in the past (this was the first time I carried a camera, instead of a French horn), and, every time, the event and its setting raise a series of complicated issues that I can't help but take personally.
The Old Guard and the Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg prepare to perform. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
First, the nation has been at war more often than not, during the years that I've been coming to the ceremony -- wars that, I think, will solve little and for which we have paid dearly, in blood and money.
Betsy, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
Second, I can't help be remember that Monticello is the home of Thomas Jefferson -- the third president of the United States, the author of the Declaration on Independence, the founder of the university at which I teach, and the owner of slaves.
Family members and friends of new citizens pose for pictures. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
It's a troubling irony that the man who wrote these magnificent words (in the Declaration's first draft) -- We hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all Men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- owed his fortune and position in life to men and women whose liberty he denied.
A member of the local media interviews a new citizen. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
Jefferson himself was profoundly aware of the irony, of the deep contradiction between his words and his deeds. This wasn't just Jefferson's problem, of course, it was the nation's. Convinced that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites and sure that blacks and whites could not live together as free people, he was never able to resolve it.
Steve Layman conducts the Charlottesville (Virginia) Municipal Band. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
No, it took new generations to find answers -- men and women like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King.
All of them, like so many people, in so many places, drew inspiration from Jefferson's words and fought to make them real. To a surprising extent, they succeeded.
Clara, Nancy, and other members of the Municipal Band's French horn section, my musical home for many years. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
So America has changed. Jefferson's generation wouldn't have welcomed many of the men, women, and children who became citizens, today. (The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to whites.) They came from Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Canada, China, Colombia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Malawi, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Nepal, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela.
Jan and Tiffany. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
At the end of the ceremony, the new citizens were invited to say a few words about what the ceremony and their new homeland meant to them. One woman spoke movingly about the issues I've just raised -- acknowleging America's problems and pointing to the promises contained in Jefferson's words.
America, she reminded us, is a work-in-progress.
No 4th of July is complete without "The Stars and Stripes Forever." And no performance of Sousa's great march is complete without the piccolo soloists. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
I actually didn't mean to be so solemn. Jefferson, without question the most interesting and most infurating of all presidents, will do that to me.
Instead, I meant to have been talking about how much fun I had at the ceremony.
The crowd. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
Charlottesville's a small town. (Monticello is only a couple of miles beyond the city limits.) I'm sure to run into people I know any time I leave the house. At a large event like the Naturalization Ceremony, I ran into a bunch.
A new American's family. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
As nice as it is to see friends, it's even better to be reminded that a nation that can produce a Harriet Tubman, a Martin Luther King, and, yes, a Thomas Jefferson has got something going for it -- something good enough to persuade over 70 immigrants from all over the world that they want to be a part of it.
The crowd applauds the new citizens, after they've taken the oath. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
As aware as I am of America's historical conumdrums and contemporary crises, it's hard to be a pessimist on a day like today.
The Old Guard and the Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
I want to believe that a country that has produced a Lincoln and a Hamer once -- a great president and a fearless grassroots activist -- can to it again.
Members of the Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
Looking at the people who came to Jefferson's Monticello to take part in and to witness the ceremony -- the home and grounds that he shared with his slaves -- I'm convinced that it will.
Bill Emory. Monticello, 4 July 2011.
Tomorrow is another day, a day in which I'm likely to turn on the news and hear some right-wing crank (probably a senator, congressman, or former governor) say something that make me want to tear out my hair.
Today, however, I'll be honestly thankful for the complicated and challenging legacy that Thomas Jefferson left us.
Dissent. Another Jeffersonian legacy. Monticello, 4 July 2011. [Click on the image to see a larger version. You'll be able to read all those bumper stickers.]