From independence, emancipation and a dream to ownership

Posted: Feb 07, 2005 12:00 AM

President Bush has said that progress for African-Americans - for all Americans - requires a healthy, growing economy. Indeed, it is hard to realize one's dreams if we are in a recession, but it's impossible to realize those dreams if there is no opportunity.

America has traveled a long and tumultuous road to achieve the ideals of our founding, to realize the dreams of all our people and open the doors of opportunity to all our children so that they can achieve the American dream. And while we have not yet reached our destination, our hopes and dreams are now within reach.

Bush's domestic agenda is as visionary - and could be as transforming - as President Lincoln's Homestead Act and Franklin D. Roosevelt's FHA and VA home-mortgage guarantees. By seeking the democratization of capitalism through a comprehensive domestic agenda from homeownership to tax reform, Bush's vision draws on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the hopes of the Emancipation Proclamation and the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to fulfill the promise of America. These themes are timely, coming on the heels of celebrating King's birthday and as we begin Black History Month and the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

On July 4, 1776, the American Colonies boldly declared their independence, asserting that "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." At the time these immortal words were put to paper, the equality asserted was merely an aspiration for Afri?can-Americans. On the eve of our war for independence, the total black population in the American Colonies numbered 567,000 - most of whom were enslaved. Four years later, Pennsylvania became the fist state to abolish slavery, marking the first step in trying to achieve the ideals set forth in our declaration.

It would take almost 100 more years before slavery would be stricken from our soil and purged from our Constitution: "That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hun?dred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the peo?ple whereof shall then be in rebel?lion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forev?er free ..." It took the deaths of more than 600,000 soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line to achieve this end, but in the end slavery was abolished.
One hundred years later and shortly after the publication of C. Vann Woodward's classic book on the history of the Jim Crow laws and American race relations, "The Strange Career of Jim Crow," King, with the Lincoln Memorial as his backdrop, spoke of a dream that observed the nightmare that was life in America for too many African-Americans. He spoke about ending "the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination." He spoke of a dream that put America on notice that "we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir."

Today, slavery remains a shame?ful stain on our national honor. To?day, the legacy of segregation is a painful but fading memory. And while the chains of discrimination have been removed, scars remain. But today African-American leaders are emerging in all industries and sectors.

One of the most exciting areas of change in present-day America is the emergence of a generation of minority entrepreneurs. There are more than 3 million minority-owned firms in the United States, generating annual revenues in excess of $700 billion. And these entrepreneurs have created nearly 5 million jobs. As a nation we have overcome, but we are not content. We have steadily moved from national independence to safeguarding every Americans' freedom to opening avenues of opportunity and now fulfilling the ideals of the declaration through Bush's vision of an ownership society.

On June 17, 2004, Bush described the ownership society this way: "... if you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of our country. The more ownership there is in America, the more vitality there is in America, and the more people have a vital stake in the future of this country." This vision is not limited to homeownership or even the president's proposal to allow works to invest in personal savings accounts.

The ownership society realizes that economic freedom and political freedom are two sides of the same coin: that we are not truly free until we have control of our own destiny and until the man-made roadblocks on the path to success are removed.
These obstacles are what the president has in mind when he talks about tax reform, Social Security reform and tort reform.

These are the barriers he wants to remove by creating personal retirement accounts, health savings accounts and lifetime savings accounts. Ownership of your house, your education, your retirement and your future. The president is talking about enabling American entrepreneurs from the Bronx to the barrios and from Watts to Washington, D.C., to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and realize the promise of America.