BY JOE DORMAN
Although many people are unaware of it, we have an important holiday next week. Constitution Day will fall on Tuesday, Sept. 17 and commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by 39 of our country’s Founding Fathers. On that day 232 years ago, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met for the last time to sign the document they had created.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy [OICA] encourages all Oklahomans, especially our young students, to observe this important day in our nation’s history. It is important for Americans of all ages to understand how this document has shaped our history.
Most of us are familiar with the three co-equal branches of government created by the Constitution and the liberties within our Bill of Rights. Less well known, but still impactful, was the creation of the U.S. Census. Article 1, Section 2 of the United State Constitution spells out that a census must be taken “every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.”
Most Kindergarten through 12thGrade classes will celebrate Constitution Day through activities, learning, parades and demonstrations of appreciation for the United State of America and the blessings of freedom Our Founding Fathers secured for us. We hope that many of these classes will use the materials prepared by the US Census Bureau, located on their website [census.gov/programs-surveys/sis/resources/constitution-day.html], to emphasize the importance of an accurate count in 2020. Federal funding for everything from roads and bridges to education is proportionate to census results, so Oklahoma literally has billions of dollars at-stake when it comes to accurately representing our population.
Learning about the creation of the Census also provides a surprisingly clear-eyed view of America’s fraught racial history and the original sin of slavery. Under the direction of the Constitution, all free persons and indentured servants were to be counted in a census, along with three-fifths of those who would fall under the category of slavery, while excluding Native Americans not taxed by the government.
Although the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, the ugly legacy of slavery and the “three-fifths” clause lingered on through segregation and other racist policies. It was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1957 [and one in 1960, another in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965] that the U.S. could fairly say it was protecting the voting rights of African Americans or Native Americans. All of that deeply troubling aspect of our history – along with everything from the Civil War to the Tulsa Race Riots – was set in motion by the Constitution.
Equally important is what we can learn about America’s most praiseworthy values from the Constitution and the amendments made to it. The 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, and the 26th Amendment, protecting the voting rights of those over 18, are the culmination of successful civil rights efforts that should make all of us proud.
Whether you are celebrating the many good things in our nation’s past or pondering the ways in which we have failed to live up to our ideals, there is so much to be learned from understanding this founding document. Please contact your local school and ensure that Constitution Day is given the attention it deserves. And even if you are not a student, please review the materials provided by the U.S. Census as they provide a great reminder of this important need to count those in our state and nation.