By G. Wayne Dowdy
On Independence Day your correspondent writes a letter to his seven year old grandniece Mallorie Pierce and grandnephews, six year old Evan Caruso and 10-month old Lawton Dowdy, where he shares his thoughts on our democratic republic and what it means to be a citizen.
Dear Evan, Lawton and Mallorie:
I hope the three of you are having fun on this special day. Derrick and I got up early this morning and went to a small neighborhood parade on High Point Terrace. There weren’t very many people there and few were in the parade, but it was still nice. Hopefully next year it will be better.
I know these past few months have been hard; not seeing your friends at school, having to stay home and avoid fun places. You won’t realize it until you are older, but by doing these things you have saved lives and made your country better.
This is the job of every American citizen – to protect and serve our neighbors, defend the Constitution, and fight injustice. In the preamble to that living document, our founders declared, We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
You see, we are the government – you, me and everyone else in this great country. The politicians work for us. Mind you, that doesn’t mean every citizen always get their way. We have to compromise with those whom we disagree in order to further perfect our union. When we do that however, we must make sure that all citizens are treated equally. Without equality and justice, our union will crumble into dust.
Some will try to convince you that our freedom is protected only by strong leaders, powerful weapons and a large military. Do not believe them. To be sure, these things are necessary and we owe respect to those, like your Grampa Dowdy, who served in the armed forces. However, they are not the source of our liberties. Providence grants freedom for us all and it is up to each of us to preserve it. We do this in many, many ways. Your teachers do so when they help you learn. Your church leaders when they show you how to love your neighbors. When health care workers heal those sick in body and mind, when volunteers feed the hungry, when coaches and scout leaders instruct you on how to live honorably, when citizens vote, and when demonstrators protest injustice they are serving and protecting our nation as well as any soldier.
In June 1944, the war correspondent and author of Tarzan of the Apes Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a letter from the battlefields of World War II to his new grandson.
“You have been born into the greatest nation the world has ever known. Keep it great,” Burroughs stated. He then advised his grandson to “do something about it,” if America had lost its way.
That is my advice to you – do something to make this country better. Defend the weak, feed the hungry, teach the young, heal the sick or comfort the lost. I know each of you will do your best and that will be enough. When your generation grows up and does your best to help our country, I know we will be in good hands.
I love each of you with all my heart.
Forever and Always,
Your Uncle Wayne
Memphis author and historian Wayne Dowdy is the Manager of the Main Library’s Memphis and Shelby County Room. He also writes for the local monthly publication Best Times and is the author of several books on Memphis history, including A Brief History Of Memphis, Hidden History Of Memphis, and Mayor Crump Don’t Like It.