July 4, 1776, was a big deal here.
OK, so Charlestonians didn’t find out about that date’s momentous Philadelphia event until well past July 4, 1776.
Hey, that was before newspapers got into Twitter.
But the Charleston-based South Carolina Gazette did publish the Declaration of Independence on Aug. 2, 1776.
July 4, 1876, wasn’t nearly as big a deal here — at least for white folks. Many of them still weren’t inclined to cheer for a Union preserved — and a Southern bid for independence crushed — by a bloody Civil War that had ended only 11 years earlier.
Then again, that outcome was a literally liberating experience for black folks, who thus had a justifiably jubilant feel for Independence Day.
By July 4, 1976, most South Carolinians, regardless of race, had long rightly recognized the glorious Fourth as a grand occasion for national celebration.
According to the next day’s News and Courier, an estimated crowd of 20,000 showed up for a bluegrass concert at Boone Hall Plantation.
The South’s Oldest Daily Newspaper (we still are) also reported: “A planned concert by the Navy Band at White Point Garden failed to materialize. Participants in a craft show there said the imminence of rain may have kept the band away.”
Don’t feel bad if that no-show has vanished from your fading memory banks.
After all, it happened quite a while back: Joe Riley had been Charleston’s mayor for less than seven months.
A Jam shagging shame
Today, July 4, 2013, spectacular fireworks shows will light up our local Independence Night sky.
However, before attending tonight’s Uncle Sam Jam at the Mount Pleasant Pier, beware that it will feature the unseemly spectacle of people — many far past their dancing primes — “shagging” to “beach music.”
And before overlooking the transforming historic significance of this date and that Declaration, remember that Thomas Jefferson wrote the epic document with a little help from fellow Founding Father friends John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.
Remember that South Carolinians Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr. and Arthur Middleton signed it. (Rutledge, like Middleton a Charlestonian, was the youngest of the Declaration’s 56 signers at 26.)
Remember that you don’t have to be in the written-word business to remain awed by the majestic wording of:
“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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This defiant conclusion is also still stirring: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Still alive and kicking
Our newborn nation, like the men who created it, wasn’t perfect. It still isn’t.
Yet our Declaration of Independence remains about as perfectly written as an assertion of collective — and individual — human freedom can be.
And on this 237th birthday of these United States, our country remains a light of liberty for the world.
So regardless of your political leanings, find fresh inspiration in that founding Declaration.
If you’re a conservative, don’t get too down about liberals running the White House and U.S. Senate.
If you’re a liberal, don’t get too down about conservatives running the U.S. House and the S.C. governorship and Legislature.
If you’re a moderate, face up to the fact that vigorous and even bitter debate comes with the self-governing territory.
So does voting out one crowd and voting in another one.
And if you want to hear some Revolutionary music, check out today’s fife-and-drum performance at Middleton Place — which used to be Declaration signer Arthur Middleton’s place.
But please, don’t shag to it.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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