The Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Black Churchmen both held out the great promise of rectifying injustices in America. The Declaration of Independence came in response to the tyranny of English rule. It trumpeted the lofty goals of equality for all men, an end to English rule, and the end to high taxes on colonists. The Declaration of Black Churchmen was drafted in response to the continued low socio-economic status of African American’s after the demise of the Civil Rights Movement in the late nineteen-sixties.
It has as its goals: integration, an end to the exploitative control of African Americans, and the more amorphous goal of an end to the institutional violence of White America. Even though both declarations sought an end to a particular kind of injustice, one failed and the other succeeded in bringing about its goals. My thesis is that the Black Churchmens’ Declaration of Independence struggles to both setup an us-them and a we modus operandi. The Black Churchmen’s’ declaration tries to cooperate with White America in order to win support for economic development in Black communities.
The declaration also tries to vilify White America as a demonic force that for hundreds of years has destroyed the hopes of Black Americans. By oscillating between these opposite modes of thought the documents rhetorical power and tone changes significantly from the original Declaration of Independence. The fundamental structure of the original Declaration of Independence relies on an us-them dichotomy. England is classified as the them, and the colonists as the us. The grievances listed in the document create a clear delineation between colonists and colonized.
The grievances also place blame squarely on England. They site the taxation policy, the lack of self government, the tyranny of England, and the abuse of the colonists: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” (Jefferson 1) to justify their right to succeed. As the list of grievances goes on the us-them dichotomy becomes more pronounced until the document explicitly delineates as “us” and a “them”, “They too have been deaf too the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
We must, therefore, acquiesce” (Jefferson 3). In this line as in the rest of the document England takes on the role of the “they” and the colonists the role of the “we”. The gap between England and the colonies (us and them) to the writers of the Declaration of Independence is more then just political differences; it is fundamental differences over the role of government, the power of England, and the moral justification of colonization.
Because the colonists create an us-them dichotomy between themselves and England the solution they propose is separation from England, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it” (Jefferson 1). If the colonists had approached England in the spirit of cooperation and not vilification the solutions that the Declaration of Independence proposed would be very different. Instead of separating from England the colonists would have asked England to think about what they had done to the Colonies and make changes.
But the declaration creates an us-them dichotomy which forces the solutions the colonists propose to be harsh and extreme. The us-them dichotomy in the declaration is critical to both the rhetorical force and the audience of the Declaration of Independence. The declaration simplifies the colonists and England in good and bad, making the colonists demands seem both justified and reasonable. The document because of its clear delineation between the wrongs of England and the rights of colonists imparts a sense of urgency and moral authority.
The audience of the declaration because of the us-them dichotomy inherent, in the document, is the colonists. Although written to justify separation from England the document is directed at convincing colonists of the need to separate, not of the need of England to give more self government to the colonies. The us-them dichotomy and its consistent manipulation throughout the Declaration of Independence gives the document a rhetorical consistency which is central to the power of the document. In comparison the Black Churchmen’s’ Declaration of Independence, oscillates between an us-them dichotomy, and a we synthesis.
This oscillation I believe occurs because the black community is in a fundamentally different position then the colonists. The Black community is dependent on its oppressors for economic and government structures. The colonists were in a fundamentally different situation. By the 1770’s the colonies had their own businesses and own government structures, so shedding their English oppressors was not a traumatic experience. This oscillation between the rhetoric of cooperation and separatism forms the central foundation of the re-declaration’s solutions and rhetorical power.
In the first section of the re-declaration White America is labeled the oppressor of the Black People (B 164). Similarly to the original Declaration of Independence the grievances listed in the re-declaration categorize a group as an tyrannical oppressor; an “other. ” In the re-declaration this oppressor is White America, in the original declaration this oppressor is England. Even the grievances that the African American community lodge against White society are similar to the grievances the colonists lodge against the English monarchy.
The African American community blames the White establishment for taxing them without representation, for ruling them in a tyrannical manner, and for denying them basic rights. The essence of the grievances lodged in the re-declaration are strikingly similar to the grievances of the original Declaration of Independence (Bl 64). Both groups feel that they are being maltreated by an entire system of laws which seeks to, “keep them down. ” The moral outrage is apparent in this section of the re-declaration. In this section there are no moments when White and Black America are recognized as one or even as having a shared future.
Instead the document gives countless examples such as: public education, ghettoization of Blacks, and the history of slavery as examples of how White America at every opportunity has sought to keep down blacks. This section of the re-declaration grabs the reader for it brings to light not just modern methods of oppression against blacks but the long history of oppression which the document calls, “a history having direct Object the Establishment and Maintenance of Racist Tyranny” (B 163). The dichotomy between us and them starts to blur in the middle of the re-declaration.
This is critical because it shows how the declaration at first sets out to vilify whites then double backs on its self and attempts to cooperate with white America. The structure of the black Churchmen’s Declaration is similar to that of the fathers view of the biblical allegory of the prodigal son. At first the Black Churchmen vilify the White community and then when they see the chance that the white community can help their black brothers the Black community attempts to forgive the past. This structure is also reflective of much of Black history which is the story of hate and cooperation with whites.
In the middle of the declaration Whites only an oppressor they are now also a potential ally in the future, “Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our White Brethren” (B 164). The use of the word, “brethren” symbolizes this blurring of enemy and ally. This is the first use of the word brethren in the document, prior to this Whites are refereed to in conjunction with the words, oppressors and tyranny. The distinction between oppressor and oppressed finishes its transformation in the final section of the document when Whites are viewed as potential allies in the future.
The solution the Black community proposes is reliant on the cooperation of White America. In this way the solutions declaration calls for break down the boundaries between us and them, and form a synthesis of, we. The declaration also foresees that there will be a time when Black America will be free, “enemies when unjust and tyrannical when just and free, friends”(B 164).
The possibility of White cooperation in this section of the re-declaration is symbolic of the appeal to the “we” which the document transforms itself into. The declarations transformation from a us-them to a we paradigm gives the document rhetorical tension. When reading the document one can feel the Black Chuchmens’ sense of frustration with White America and yet also a sense of hope about the future. This paradoxical relationship of cooperating with those they indite metamorphosizes the tone of the document as one reads it.
At first the document is angry, it lists the countless acts of oppression that the “other” has effected on the black people, but as the re-declaration continues the tone become more conciliatory and seeks cooperation (B 164). Despite the past history of injustice the Black people are willing to give White America one more chance to exorcise themselves of racism. This is profoundly different then the colonists’ Declaration of Independence which does not give England an another chance to; but immediately calls for succession from England. This difference is due to the difference between the us-them and we paradigm in the different documents.
The us-them characterization also has a significant effect on the audience the re-decoration is directed at. The Declaration of Independence is written to justify the colonies claim to succeed. In contrast the re-declaration is written to convince White America to rid itself of racism appealing both to White America’s conscience and the moral court of the world, “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the Rectitude of our Intentions” (B 165). What is fascinating about the Declaration of Black Churchmen is the relationship between their self-identity and America.
The Declaration of Black Churchmen on one hand seeks to form a biracial society where Whites and Blacks live together and yet on the other hand it clearly blames White America for much of its problems. This ambiguity and identity problem did not exist for the colonists who clearly identified themselves as separate from England. It is surprising that after all that White America has done to its African American population the African American population as expressed in the re-declaration still wants to be accepted into the arms of White America as equals.
This double consciousness that sees White America as both an enemy and a future allies underlies the re-declaration. Even the black heroes of the past that the Black Churchmen list as their prophets share this same bifurcated past (B 165). Leaders such as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey saw themselves as not being American but being African or Muslim. Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglas in contrast saw themselves as being American. This double consciousness plays itself in the re-declaration as the declaration passes from anger and the need for separation from America to cooperation with White America.
This bifurcated feeling leads the black churchmen to very different solutions then the colonists. The colonists saw themselves as American not English so they succeeded from England. In contrast the Black Churchmen see themselves to be both American and not American, because of this the solutions they put forth call for cooperation with white America and a non-cooperating with White America. With an identity stretched between the opposite polls of separatism and integration the re-declaration losses some of its rhetorical consistency and purpose when it comes to proposing solutions to the African American predicament.
The Declaration of Black Churchmen is very different then its model, the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Black Churchmen oscillates between classifying its relationship with its oppressor as, us-them and, we. The Declaration of Independence in contrast sees the English monarchy as the oppressor. The use of the, us-them dichotomy and the appeal to the, we in the Declaration of Black Churchmen cause the re-declaration to both threaten White America and cooperate with it at the same time.
The colonists in contrast do not appeal to the, we, and do not share the same type of double consciousness the Black Churchmen do. Because of this they propose separation from England. The very different solutions the colonists and Black Churchmen offer are due to the different paradigms the declarations are written in, “us-them” versus “we. ” The Declaration of Black Churchmen is not only a Declaration of Independence it is also a Declaration of Cooperation.