A thread of continuity connects the American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It is the world shaking proclamation opening the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence-"that all men are created equal" and have an undeniable right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It became the centerpiece of African American political beliefs for the next two centuries-not the way it was applied by the Founders, tolerating slavery, but in its full, universal application. Its spirit was invoked by Frederick Douglass and by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address and was manifested in the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, especially the 14th. Black protest organizations in the twentieth century cited it as the basis of their attacks on segregation and racial discrimination. Most famously, and convincingly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington in 1963, tied the Declaration, the promise of natural rights from the days of the Revolution, to the demand for the full rights of all Americans.
James H. Hershman Jr.
James H. Hershman, Jr., served as a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University's Government Affairs Institute from 1997 until his retirement in 2010. From 1995 to 1997, he served on the senior staff at the Brookings Institution. Before going to Brookings, he served as an instructor on congressional affairs for the federal government and earlier in his career held teaching positions at Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia. His Ph.D. in Southern History is from the University of Virginia. He contributed an essay to The Moderates' Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia and his articles and reviews have appeared in Journal of Southern History, Journal of Negro Education, and other journals and online publications. He continues to teach in Georgetown's Graduate Liberal Studies program.
James H. Hershman, Jr., professor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown University, finds echoes of the The Declaration of Independence in the civil rights movement, from Brown v. Board of Education to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.