ACLU Leader Captures Moment in History with Reading of Declaration of Independence

July 2, 2012 6:29 pm

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Laura Murphy, African-American Descendant of Signer, Works to Expand Vision of Her Forefather


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WASHINGTON —Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, will be the first African-American descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence to read excerpts of the historic document as a part of the National Archives annual celebration on July 4.

The event is slated to begin at 10 a.m. on the Constitution Avenue steps of the National Archives Building.

Murphy’s familial background on her mother’s side is of mixed lineage, with her fifth great-grandfather, Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration, and her second great-grandmother Barbara Williams, a slave of the signer’s grandson.

“Who better understands the meaning of freedom than a descendant of slaves, rebels, leading patriots and a leader in the ACLU,” Murphy said. “My story illustrates the complex roots of the founders and the untold sequence of events culminating in this venerated holiday.”

Life, liberty, happiness and individual freedom continue to be threatened in this country, challenges that Murphy said she and the ACLU staff nationwide confront daily.

The quest for equality was originally sought by the Declaration’s signers who were white male landowners. They rejected a condemnation of slavery that was proposed by fellow signer Thomas Jefferson. Nonetheless, slaves and freed African Americans fought in the Revolutionary War and for fundamental fairness for civil rights and civil liberties over the next two-and-a-half centuries. That vision of liberty now includes women, Native Americans, African Americans, the LGBT community, immigrants, the elderly and the disabled, Murphy said.

“You would think that a document drafted so long ago wouldn’t require much maintenance, but you couldn’t be more wrong,” Murphy said. “In the words of Wendell Phillips and as oft stated by the ACLU, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

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