Almost every year since I arrived in Charlottesville in 1981, my wife Nancy and I have attended the annual July 4th naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Last week, another 67 people born in countries as diverse as Iraq and Ghana took the oath of U.S. citizenship, pledging to protect and defend our Constitution, and also renouncing “all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty….” Over the years, we have heard thoughtful or insightful speeches discussing Jefferson and his role in the founding of the country, and celebrating countless people from foreign shores who decided to take the oath and become American citizens. It is among the most inspiring events that an American can attend, largely because it links the power of Jefferson’s words with the promise of so many seeking a better life.
This week continued with two other significant events in Charlottesville, one to memorialize and remember the horrific lynching of John Henry James in 1898 as part of the Charlottesville Pilgrimage for Justice, and the following day, the LatinX picnic and Harmonia music benefit for migrant families in our area. Placing these alongside the Monticello celebration draws attention to critical fissures in our society and the work of citizens to address them.