“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”Posted in Articles, Democracy, Freedom
Looking out over the landscape of America this 4th of July, I am reminded of that great song that we used to sing in elementary school. With hands across our hearts, we looked to the flag, pledging our allegiance. Then, after a short pause, we would turn to the front of the classroom, to our teacher Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a Tuskegee Airman and former POW whose plane had been shot down over France – and he would lead us in song:
My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!
I remember the great pride swelling our chests and the great feelings pounding in our hearts as we sang each word and stanza, eyes aglow in wondrous amazement. The music would crescendo, higher and broader and brighter, until we were almost shouting from the very soles of our feet to the tips of our tongues. We chorused forth a roaring, “Let freedom ring” . . . “Let freedom ring” . . . “Let freedom ring!”
A scuffling of feet and a soft commotion would follow our heart-felt singing as our bodies rushed with the adrenalin of sweet relief for so joyously singing. We were also filled with joy, in a smug, self-congratulatory manner, at how we had outdone each other in shouting those words – a kind of sacred commandment, an immediate demand for freedom from the very air of our stuffy classroom.
We sang that song as children, seeking to break the stiff silences of defeat, feelings we’d had or had heard of; to set free the caged birds within us that were yearning for an eagle’s flight, to lift us beyond the monotony of our regimented routines. We sang that song – and we were always glad to sing it – for we felt that its words and melody transported us to higher clefts of glee where we could “taste” – if not in permanent, eternal pauses, then certainly in fleeting flashes – the feelings of pure freedom, rebounding us upward from the mortal coils of our terrestrial toils.
When we sang that song, we caught glorious visions of truth speaking, of worlds turning, of eyes gleaming, of life changing, of chains breaking, of brighter suns rising, of hope shining and transcending, of the school day happily ending and long hot summer days finally beginning!
When we sang that song, we always sang it not only for what we were then but for what we would all one day become! We were proud to sing that song, every one of us, proud to be called Americans! We sang it, and loved singing it, and I still love hearing and singing it today.
“My country ’tis of thee . . . sweet land of liberty . . . of thee I sing.”
And the glorious promise as that first stanza ends . . . “From every mountain side let freedom ring.”