I wanted to write about my country today. It’s taken me all day to write this blog post, but I think it’s important. My parents and my grandma voted in the election last Tuesday and we are going to celebrate America’s birthday on the 4th of July this Friday. But there is something else too. For the last two weeks, I’ve been seeing a lot of stories on the news about the Mississippi Freedom Summer. My parents have also been watching programs about it on t.v. The other night, my brother and I watched one of them and I learned that Mississippi Freedom Summer happened over a period of ten weeks in the summer of 1964. During this time, more than 700 students from around the United States volunteered to work with civil rights organizers and local African-Americans in the fight to rid the nation of white supremacy and racism. It took place in one of America’s most racist, segregated states in the south – Mississippi.
During the summer of 1964, all of these people came to Mississippi in order to register blacks to vote. If black people were allowed to vote, then they could vote for different leaders who were not racist and didn’t believe in segregation, but wanted all people to be equal. Black men won the right to vote in 1870, because of the passing of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution; but for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise their right to vote. White officials and leaders kept black people from voting by making them pay poll taxes and making them pass literacy tests, even though a lot of black people could not read for reasons due to racism. They also scared black people away from voting. They beat them, lynched them, and killed them. There were a lot of other racist things going on in society too, but civil rights leaders thought that if black people could only vote then they would be able to change things.
Freedom Summer volunteers and civil rights activists were threatened and harassed by white supremacist groups and local residents, but also by the police, who should have been protecting them! School buildings, the houses where the volunteers lived, 37 black churches, and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned during that summer! Most of the time, whoever did it was never found and punished. More than 1,000 black and white volunteers were arrested, and at least 80 were beaten by groups of white racists or even police officers. The worst thing that happened though was the murder of three young civil rights workers. One was a black volunteer named James Chaney, and the other two were white volunteers named Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. On June 21, 1964, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner went to go investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were stopped by the police and arrested for no reason at all. The police held them for several hours on fake traffic violations. They released them at night and it was the last time they were seen alive. Their bodies were found under a dam six weeks later. They had been shot and beaten to death.
The murders made it into newspapers all over the country. Lots of people became interested in civil rights and began to support the Civil Rights Movement. All of this happened fifty years ago this summer! Things got better. The Civil Rights Movement changed American history and the lives of every black person in America. It makes me sad and mad to know what went on during that time and how black people were treated in my country, but I feel good that things are different now. The President of the United States is black, you know! That makes me proud! The rest of my blog today will tell you all of the reasons that I am proud to be an American.
As an eleven year old girl living in the United States, I am proud to be an American. As Americans we have certain advantages over other countries that make us different. For example, we do not have a dictator; we elect our leaders like the President of the United States. As American citizens, we have certain rights granted to us in the United States Constitution such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Another very important advantage to being American is school. All American citizens have the right to a free public education.
In the United States of America we elect out leaders. We are a democracy, which means that we the people have a say in our government. This is true whether it is the local school board all the way up to the President of the United States. We participate in our government through voting and electing leaders. Regular citizens can even run for office! We are allowed to contact our leaders and tell them what we think about how they are doing their jobs and what kinds of things we would like for them to do. In many other countries, such as Cuba, China, North Korea, and Syria, just to name a few, citizens do not have these rights. The countries that I named are dictatorships, which mean that you have no say in anything at all! Not only do they not allow their citizens to vote and elect their leaders, you cannot speak out against the leaders if you do not like what they are doing. It can get you put in jail or even killed. Many of these dictators will be put into power and they will stay there until they die. In America, we have a choice. If we do not think our leaders are doing a good job, we have the opportunity to elect someone new the next time. Amendment 22 limits the term of our President to two so that somebody else can have a chance to be President.
There are twenty-seven Amendments to the United States Constitution. The first ten are called the Bill of Rights. These Amendments put into America’s defining law what our rights as citizens are. Amendment 1 gives us freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. We can practice whatever religion we want because we have the freedom to do so. In some countries, people are persecuted for not practicing the religion that the government says is the best or in some places, the government won’t allow its citizens to practice any religion at all. Freedom of speech means that we can say whatever we want to without fear that we will be harmed if somebody gets angry or has a different opinion. This freedom also means that we can speak out against our leaders or our government in order to make it better. Freedom of press means that we can print just about anything that we want in the newspaper, as long as it’s true. In other countries, especially countries with dictators, people can get in big trouble for doing these things, maybe even killed.
In America we have the right to an education that is free so that all of our citizens can go to school and have good lives. Our government doesn’t just provide this; it requires it because it wants a country of educated citizens. If we choose, we can go to private school, religious school, or be home schooled. That is what is so great about America; we have the freedom to choose. We can go to school no matter the color of our skin (Amendment 15). Women can also be educated and have the right to vote (Amendment 19). In October 2012, a 15-year-old girl in Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai was attacked on her way home from school. She was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban. The reason was because she wanted to go to school. In her country, she stood up for the right of women and girls to have an education in her country. She lived and has become a symbol all over the world of fighting injustice in countries that do not respect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. In America, I can go to school without fear of being hurt because I am a girl.
And something else that I talked to my parents about that makes me proud to be an American and to be a citizen of, in my opinion, what is the greatest country in the world is that in American we learn from our mistakes, we change, and we grow. On Monday, January 20th, 2014 we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American who stood up for what he believed. He fought for equal rights for African Americans in the 1950s and the 1960s when American wasn’t quite so free for everybody. He fought against segregation and wanted equality for all people. He was eventually killed because so many people didn’t like what he was saying and fighting for. But in the end, our government changed. Our citizens worked together to make this happen because more and more people began to realize that Dr. King was right and that in America we had to do something different. And we can’t forget all of the volunteers that worked for voting rights for black people during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, who were also responsible for changing our country for the better.
It is because of them that I can attend school and sit next to other kids who do not have the same skin color as me, but we can still be friends and get a good education, no matter our religion, no matter our race. And because of that I am proud to be an American and live in a country where I can be truly free. Thanks for reading my post. It’s something different than fashion and dance for a change. Please come back soon.
The American Flag – Happy Birthday America