In a virtual speech, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation’s (UN) Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated her belief that “white supremacy is weaved into our founding documents and principles” and that racial equity will be one of her primary goals at the organization.
The comments were made during her speech for the National Action Network conference, “one of the leading civil rights organizations in the Nation [sic] with chapters throughout the entire United States.” It is led by Reverend Al Sharpton, and “works within the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, criminal record, economic status, gender, gender expression, or sexuality.”
As part of her remarks, Thomas-Greenfield said, “We have to acknowledge that we are part of an imperfect union and have been since the beginning, and every day we strive to make ourselves more perfect and more just.
“It means not forgetting our past or ignoring our present but keeping both firmly in mind as we push for a better future.”
Thomas-Greenfield then said that she shared with colleagues at the United Nations on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about her own experience with racism in the United States. Her great-great-grandmother was born a slave but she did not mention that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed her great-grandmother from the bonds of slavery.
She also shared about how growing up in the deep South she saw the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses on lawns in her neighborhood and how she was bused to a segregated school.
“I shared these stories and others to acknowledge, on the international stage, that I have personally experienced one of America’s greatest imperfections,” she said. “I’ve seen for myself how the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles.”
But is this true?
One of the primary inspirations for the Constitution is the Magna Carta, an 800-year-old document written by a group of 40 frustrated barons with funding a series of wars under the leadership of King John. According to the National Archives, there are “two principles expressed in the Magna Carta that resonate to this day.”
One is that “no freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseized, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or persecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.” This line directly inspired the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
The other is that “to no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.”
This document served to “inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in the Magna Carta” and later embedded these rights in the Constitution.
So how does all of this fit in with the United States’ engagement of slavery?
In reality, it doesn’t, and the founders were well-aware of this contradiction. Many struggled with how they could continue fighting for liberty, while not providing it to those who were suffering in slavery.
The situation was complicated at the time.
The book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution tries to explain this contradiction and obvious hypocrisy, citing contemporaries who questioned the practice.
Patrick Henry wrote that “like the majority of his neighbors, felt that ‘the general inconvenience of living here without them’ rendered the freeing of the slaves in the south impractical, nevertheless he could not ignore the contradiction involved in maintaining slavery ‘at a time when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision in a country above all others fond of liberty’; and, confessing his own guilt and inconsistency, he wrote that he looked forward to the time ‘when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil.’”
A man in South Carolina highlighted that if slavery were abolished, it would result in the “complete ruin of many American provinces, as well as the West India islands.”
Samuel Cooke, in a sermon he gave after a Massachusetts election in 1770, “argued that in tolerating slavery ‘we, the patrons of liberty, have dishonored the Christian name, and degraded human nature nearly to a level with the beasts that perish,’ and he devoted most of his text to ‘the cause of our African slaves.’”
Though there were economic pressures that kept slavery legal during the inception of the country, the founders were aware that if they really believed in liberty and freedom, it would have to extend to the slaves at some point. Unfortunately, it took nearly 100 years to make it a reality, but the seeds of freedom were there from the beginning.
Thomas-Greenfield’s statements are similar to ones that have been floating around in certain circles for some years. It’s a belief held by those who don’t see the value of the Constitution and the freedoms it protects, which could deeply impact the family, religious liberty and freedom of speech. As Christians have seen over the last year, we’ve seen how certain overzealous state governments have infringed on the rights of Americans to do something simple, like attend church.
In an interview with The Daily Citizen in January, Bob Woodson of the African American led 1776 Project shared, “No individual or nation should be judged by the worst of what we were. Slavery was America’s birth defect, but America is also defined through its Judeo-Christian heritage and faith as a country of redemption and second chances. That’s why we have a Constitution, which is a document that compels us to correct ourselves. We are the only nation on the face of the earth that ever fought a war to end slavery. We are the only nation that has an Emancipation Proclamation.
“So that’s why we should be defined by America’s promise, never totally by America’s problem.”
Photo from POOL/REUTERS