By Charles Petty
Another election has occurred, and as expected, half the country is jubilant and the other half is irritated. It’s been a painful season for us as a nation that has at times brought out the worst in us.
2020 has been an eye-opener for many of us about how fragile democracy truly is. The fragility of our experiment in representative democracy begs a question – is it worth preserving? In June of this year, a Gallup poll discovered our national sense of pride was at an all-time low. Of those surveyed, only 21 percent felt “very proud” to be an American, a low that hasn’t been seen since 2001.
Further, nearly 10 percent of those surveyed said they were “not proud at all” of being American.
From investigative journalism endeavors like The 1619 Project, a New York Times selection of articles and essays which focuses on America’s 400 year-long involvement with slavery and anti-black racism, to a renewed understanding of America’s long history of genocide and war as well as embedded prejudice, it seems that America’s values have been called into question.
The question before us now is how do we renew a sense of national pride while still recognizing our flaws and imperfections? Is there a way to reconcile both the good, the bad and the indifferent in our nation’s past? Can we recognize both our nation’s more appalling history and still appreciate the noble efforts of brave men and women to create a land more just and fair?
For me, the answer lies in a uniquely American organization — the Sons of the American Revolution, of which I was recently honored to be a part of founding a chapter in the Sandhills.
The organization hopes to spread awareness of the history of the Revolution by convening members whose ancestors fought for American independence (for me, that ancestor is William Andrews, who served as a sheriff in the St. Thomas community in present-day Orange County). This brotherhood hopes that dialogue and community service will lead to the mission set out by our forefathers for a “more perfect union.”
The origins of this Sandhills chapter go back about three years, when a group of local retirees met for lunch at the Table on The Green at the Midland Country Club in Pinehurst. This group happened to be history buffs and enjoyed telling stories while lunching. When these gentlemen realized they were all descendants of Patriots of the American Revolution, they decided to organize an SAR chapter, an effort that took about two years.
One of those gentlemen, Bruce Fensley, is now the chapter’s president.
“This organization can help increase the patriotic activities in the Sandhills area and to educate the public about the sacrifice our forebears made to fight for freedom and liberty,” he told me.
Our chapter is hoping to help spread awareness about Revolutionary War, Constitutional and Colonial history in North Carolina. The SAR takes great pride in helping to organize battle reenactments, writing contests with cash prizes and producing historical literature for educational purposes. We also work on marking patriot graves in our area in recognition of veterans’ service during the Revolution.
While to us in the SAR, America’s beginning truly is July 4, 1776 — not August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived in Virginia as the NYT essay collection posits — we are in no way trying to diminish the painful history of our country.
Rather, we seek to open a dialogue on what is noble and good about America and how imperfect men rose up to try and create “a more perfect union.” By understanding our good as well as bad attributes, we hope that patriotism can be more inclusive through that brotherhood of Revolutionary War descendants.
Which leads back to the question I posed above — is democracy worth it? Is an organization like the SAR a useful tool to encourage healthy, patriotic, civic engagement?
I say that it is — in fact, we are needed now more than ever. Instead of competing views of America’s founding and whether to focus on solely the good or the bad, we should instead look at it through the lens of those whose families fought and endured the struggle to create the most unique experiment in democracy known to man. To me, despite our flaws, our country and its rich history deserve to be preserved and remembered. We should read and study the Constitution, read more about the key figures in our history and participate in conversation about where we want our country to go. As William Faulkner put it: “the past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” Let us learn to be better American citizens and global citizens in the midst of such troubled yet hopeful times.
If you yourself are a descendant or know someone who is a descendant of a patriot and wish to join our chapter, contact North Carolina SAR President Fred Learned firstname.lastname@example.org or Sandhills SAR chapter President Bruce Fensley at email@example.com