Independence Day: Clark, Champaign leaders share thoughts on equality, uniting the country

Independence Day will be celebrated around the country with cookouts, fireworks and family-fun.

The holiday marks the significance of the Continental Congress voting in favor of independence and the 13 colonies adopting the Declaration of Independence over 240 years. These efforts inspire generations of Americans to continue to fight for equality and freedom in today’s world.

President of the Gammon House Dale Henry said, “It has taken us far too long to get where we are at right now and now that we are here we’re at a point where we need to use what resources we have to make the struggle complete – to let the progress complete.”

“This country began with people determined to self-govern themselves fairly,” President of the South Charleston Heritage Commission Sue Mattinson said. “We need to continue to make sure this is shared equally by all.”

The Springfield News-Sun asked individuals that preserve and share history within Clark and Champaign counties to share their thoughts on equality, freedom and uniting the country - at a time when the country is experiencing a major public health crisis and social unrest.

Champaign County Historical Society Museum Director Cheryl Ogden said having equality and freedom means “not being judged on superficial things and being evaluated by a person’s heart and mind instead of by looks or something they don’t have control over.”

She added, “I want to be evaluated on who I am as a person not the other things I can’t control.”

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Clark County Public Library Director Bill Martino agreed with Ogden.

“To me it means that everyone should get a seat at the table. The color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your religion and/or creed should not automatically diminish or inflate your worth to society,” Martino said. “Every person should be entitled to their beliefs and opinions. It doesn’t mean we always have to agree, but it does mean that we should feel safe in expressing our own ideas.”

Recently, protests across the country have been raising awareness about societal injustices following the death of George Floyd, who died as a Minneapolis Police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.

When asked how our country can unite and strengthen equality, Henry and Ogden agreed that dialogue is needed.

Henry said, “As far as the issue of institutional or racial inequality is in concern we need to make sure people continue to realize that if we’re ever going to be the country that the Founding Fathers hoped us to be then we’re going to have to have a continuing dialogue to make that happen.”

“I think the first thing we need to do is get back at the table and sit down and talk to each other,” Ogden said. “Promote and continue dialogue with actually listening to other people and not just sitting their nodding - being able to move forward together.”

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Besides being a library director, Martino was a Professor of History at Kent State University for 25 years.

He said he always stressed to his students to look at both sides of an argument or event before truly understanding it.

“It is easy to dismiss notions that go against your way of thinking, Martino said. “However, to dismiss them offhandedly is to ignore a fuller understanding of the issue.”

Henry said that on Independence Day, all Americans need to “recognize the importance and the significance of every person that lives in the United States. We are all one family and as such we need to realize that we need to work together to make this country what it was set out to be – free and equal.”

Mattinson said that being an American means “being able to share a love of fellow Americans and together build a shared future of opportunities for everyone.”

“The history of the United States is diverse, brilliant and divisive,” Martino said. “Our founding shook the mores of European society to its very core. Yet now, facing a crossroads in our history, I truly hope that we can once again stun the world by coming together as a people. A Second American Revolution, as it were.”

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