As Americans, our understanding of history has a tremendous impact on our sense of who we are and where we are headed.
That is why it is so important for Americans to have a good understanding of our history – all of our history.
Slavery is a great stain on our country’s history and its legacy impacts us yet today.
We must not flinch from recognizing the suffering inflicted on so many Americans, contrary to our highest ideals as a nation.
Still, our nation is unique in human history in that it was founded not on the basis of some sort of common ethnic identity, but on certain enduring principles that are the equal heritage of all Americans.
Those principles are best articulated in the simple but eloquent words of the Declaration of Independence, “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.”
Our patriot forefathers concluded that these principals were worth fighting for and took up arms. The odds were stacked against them and they knew it, but they nevertheless risked everything because they believed so deeply in those fundamental truths.
Among those who risked life and limb for our nation’s founding principles were between 5,000 and 10,000 Americans of African descent who volunteered to serve as soldiers and sailors during the American Revolution.
Their patriotic sacrifices at the very beginning of our nation contributed immeasurably toward laying the foundations of the freedom we enjoy today.
The Civil Rights Movement was later able to build on that solid foundation by calling on America to, as Dr. King said, “live out the true meaning of its creed.”
Dr. King was absolutely right in pointing out that black Americans have every right to fully claim our shared heritage as Americans, having helped build and shape American institutions and society from the beginning.
This proud history is part of who we are as Americans, but it is too little understood.
That is why I was proud to co-lead legislation that authorized the establishment of a National Liberty Memorial on the National Mall to honor the underappreciated contributions of black Revolutionary War patriots.
And, I am proud to say that Iowa can claim at least one of those patriots.
Cato Mead, who was born in Connecticut and is listed in Revolutionary War pension court records as a “free person of color”, lived out his twilight years in southeastern Iowa.
He is buried in Montrose Cemetery in Montrose, Iowa.
The National Mall Liberty Fund is now in the process of raising money for an environmental assessment to complete final site selection for this important memorial.
Now, more than ever, America needs this monument as a tangible reminder that – despite the lingering legacy of slavery – the promise of liberty and equality is the shared heritage of all Americans from the founding generation to today.