I have been fortunate throughout my life to visit many historic places in the United States. From an early age, my parents took me to see sites they thought were important for Americans to see. I’ve continued these pilgrimages throughout my life.
- I’ve seen the site where Pocahontas married John Rolfe. While the stories about her saving John Smith’s life during the development of the Jamestown colony may be apocryphal, it is clear that she did contribute to the success of the Jamestown colony. She provided food, comfort, and safety for the colonists. She also was a sort of “public relations” icon for support of the American colonies in Britain.
- I’ve worshiped in the church where Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other members of our founding families attended services.
- I’ve gazed at the doors of Independence Hall and remembered the brave men who signed the Declaration of Independence.
- I’ve surveyed the field where a representative of General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown.
- I’ve thrown a rock into the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at Harper’s Ferry where Lewis and Clark first began their Western exploration. This was to be the first step in many that would lead to great progress in the expansion of our nation.
- I’ve seen the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, which inspired our country’s national anthem.
- I’ve been to Sutter’s Mill and thought about how the 1849 California gold rush helped forge civilization out of frontier outposts.
- I’ve walked the battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg, imagining the tactics and actions that helped preserve our union and end slavery.
- I’ve toured the Iolani Palace in Hawaii and remembered that our nation has many backgrounds.
- I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty and imagined how the immigrants who came to our country must have felt when they landed on our shores.
- I’ve stood next to the grave of Woodrow Wilson in the National Cathedral, paying tribute to an intelligent man of principle who held peace as his ideal.
- I’ve seen golden Oscars, ruby slippers, exquisite handmade movie costumes, and scripts from early movie productions. I’ve even read a telegram to Rin Tin Tin in which the studio cancelled his contract because the moving picture industry was converting to talkies and “dogs can’t talk.”
- I’ve viewed the rusty remnants of the USS Arizona beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor. I’ve stood on the USS Missouri where Japan surrendered to the United States, ending World War II.
- I’ve seen the Greensboro North Carolina lunch counter where four courageous African American students sat on February 1, 1960, to protest the “whites only” service policy.
- I’ve felt a moon rock.
- I’ve walked the Halls of Congress, toured the White House, and admired the dignity of the Supreme Court building.
In addition to these momentous sites, I have also visited many locations of “everyday history.” The fabric of our history is not just made up of keystone moments and famous people. Everyone who came before us is also part of that history, no matter how seemingly pedestrian his or her life. These lives also inspire me as an American.
- I’ve seen Native American petroglyphs on the rock walls of river gorges.
- I’ve walked the streets of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States.
- I’ve struggled to chime the bell in a New Hampshire Congregational Church tower. This church is the progeny of the early Puritan churches that formed the first cornerstone of the New England colonies.
- I’ve visited a Daoist temple in Northern California that was built for the influx of Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in the late nineteenth century to work in the goldfields and on the railroad construction.
- I’ve been to living history museums in New England, Virginia, Texas, Florida, and California where I observed demonstrations of arts and industries that were key components to life in days gone by.
As we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America on the Fourth of July, I am grateful and proud to be part of this country. I believe my travels across the nation and my visits to important historical sites increase my appreciation of my country. I am proud of the wonderful accomplishments and advancements that have taken place in my country’s history. I don’t think it is a blind or jingoistic pride. We do live in a wonderful country and we are a wonderful people.
However, for every achievement or momentous moment I’ve mentioned above, I know there is a darker side. For instance, the founders of the nation who wrote the Declaration of Independence were all white men and declared “all men are created equal.” The westward expansion of the United States led to the oppression and slaughter of native peoples. The memories of military victory in World War II also generate memories of a time when we, as Americans, confined other Americans to internment camps. The people who drive our governmental systems do not always do so efficiently, fairly, and altruistically.
I am still proud to be an American, despite all that. To me, one of the specific reasons I am so proud to be an American is that I know about these darker sides of our history. In many nations, history that doesn’t conform to the government’s vision of itself would be hidden and rewritten. I would be ignorant of the less admirable parts of history in such a culture. I certainly would not be able to write about them. I believe the American people, culture, and systems of government are uniquely suited to identifying problems and working towards progress. We are willing to face our flaws, recognizing them and working together to improve.
Change and growth is very difficult. Sometimes we disagree about what the changes should look like. Sometimes, we stumble. Sometimes, we take sidesteps. Sometimes, we even make missteps. It often takes generations to accomplish positive change, but we keep moving forwards. I can look at the political, social, and cultural landscape of the country, even over my own lifetime, and see how we keep developing. It can sometimes seem like we are moving backwards, but the key to really appreciating all we are and all we have accomplished is to look at net progress from a distance of time. I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to fuel the engine of that progress and keep it speeding, straight and true, over the tracks of history. We are all part of our history.
History is not only what was. One day, history will be what is now.
Have you ever visited someplace that increased your appreciation of your heritage? Tell us about it! Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a spectacular Fourth Of July!
Have a patriotic day!