Otto Whittaker wrote the following essay, “I Am the Nation” in 1955 as a public relations advertisement for the Norfolk and Western Railway. The message found in Mr. Whittaker’s essay is still appropriate for this Independence Day, so I have chosen to include it below as part of my weekly column.
“I was born on July 4, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence is my birth certificate. The bloodlines of the world run in my veins, because I offered freedom to the oppressed. I am many things and many people. I am the Nation.
I am 213 million living souls – and the ghost of millions who have lived and died for me. I am Nathan Hale and Paul Revere. I stood at Lexington and fired the shot heard around the world. I am Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry. I am John Paul Jones, the Green Mountain Boys and Davy Crockett. I am Lee and Grant and Abe Lincoln.
I remember the Alamo, the Maine and Pearl Harbor. When freedom called I answered and stayed until it was over, over there. I left my heroic dead in Flanders Fields, on the rock of Corregidor, on the bleak slopes of Korea.
I am the Brooklyn Bridge, the wheat fields of Kansas and the granite hills of Vermont. I am the coalfields of the Virginias and Pennsylvania, the fertile lands of the West, the Golden Gate and the Grand Canyon. I am Independence Hall, the Monitor and Merrimac. I am big. I sprawl from the Atlantic to the Pacific – my arms reach out to embrace Alaska and Hawaii – 3 million square miles throbbing with industry. I am more than 5 million farms. I am forest, field, mountain and desert. I am quiet villages – and cities that never sleep.
You can look at me and see Ben Franklin walking down the streets of Philadelphia with his bread loaf under his arm. You can see Betsy Ross with her needle. You can see the lights of Christmas, and hear the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” as the calendar turns.
I am Babe Ruth and the World Series. I am schools and colleges, and churches where my people worship God as they think best. I am a ballot dropped in a box, the roar of a crowd in a stadium and the voice of a choir in a cathedral. I am an editorial in a newspaper and a letter to a congressman.
I am Eli Whitney and Stephen Foster. I am Tom Edison, Albert Einstein and Billy Graham. I am Horace Greeley, Will Rogers and the Wright brothers. I am George Washington Carver, Jonas Salk and Martin Luther King. I am Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman and Thomas Paine.”
Today, we have Donald Trump. Our current President is the most unbridled and shoot from the hip President I have witnessed in my lifetime. He is amazingly similar to Alabama’s most colorful and uninhibited governor, Big Jim Folsom. Similar to Folsom, Trump has a childlike disrespect for decorum.
Recently, Trump was making a speech that someone had written for him. He read to a large audience, “This 2018 election is as important as the 2016 election.” He paused and said, “I don’t know who wrote that. I don’t know that I really believe that, and I don’t think y’all think I do either.”
Similarly, Big Jim Folsom in his day was to address the American Textile Association meeting, which was being held in Montgomery. At that time Textiles was Alabama’s largest industry. Ole Big Jim had been in Mobile for a week on a fishing expedition with some of his buddies. As Governor Big Jim was to give a welcoming speech to the Textile executives and dignitaries from throughout the country, the state troopers drove Big Jim hurriedly from Mobile to Montgomery. As he was getting out of the car to walk into the hotel to give his welcoming speech, an aide handed him the speech to give, which Big Jim had not seen.
He got up and started reading the speech and it was full of all kind of statistics. He read, “Alabama has over 200,000 people employed in the textile industry. It accounts for one out of every four jobs. We are the second leading textile state in America.” Big Jim paused in childlike amazement with his mouth wide open and blared out in a loud and astonishing voice, “I’ll be doggone, I didn’t know that!”
Have a safe and happy Independence Day. We will continue next week with the sagas of Alabama politics.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.