A Trip To 1776 With A Stop In West Virginia

July 4th, 2017  |   

The Fourth of July is my ticket back to 1776. Getting there, however, I must pass through 1976. You might find that trip interesting, so travel with me. We’ll stop here in Charleston, West Virginia.

Judy and I, along with our four children arrived here in August 1974. We’d come from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, where I spent the summer writing a book, before becoming the minister at St. John’s Episcopal Church. When school began, all hell broke loose in our new hometown, as a countywide battle raged over recently adopted kindergarten through high school language arts textbooks. The battle, on more than one occasion, turned violent when shots rang out and schools were bombed.

Today is no day to delve into what is now labeled, The Kanawha County Textbook War.

All that need be said, from my vantage point, is that by 1976 the struggle still persisted when new history textbooks were introduced. Having played my part in the battle, which included threats from opponents, including the Ku Klux Klan, and police protection for my family and me, friends advised me to take time for some fun.

I had never taken part in a musical, but what the heck, I showed up at the Charleston Light Opera Guild tryouts for the play, “1776.” Judy, so very musical, had stacks of printed music, but that wasn’t any help. I don’t read music, so I took a hymnbook to the tryouts and sang, “O Come O Come Emanuel.” Tom Murphy, then the director of the Guild, and who became a dear friend, gave me a puzzled look, and a choice comment when I sang the last verse. “What the hell is this, a religious revival?”

That’s how I got the part of Thomas Jefferson, died my hair red, and fell in love with the marvelous cast, and this musical rendition of the events surrounding the Declaration of Independence. Daughter Elizabeth accompanied me to every rehearsal as I totally submerged myself in this delightful play. Aside from the performances, the cast performed at the 1976 bicentennial celebration on the city dock in downtown Charleston. Today, thinking about the performances back then, I listened to some of the music.

The play is fun, serious, light, heavy, sexual, spiritual, giddy, and ominous. In other words, a potpourri of Americana, for better or for worse, with all that was included in our history, and all that was ignored.

Listen to one of the songs from the film version, “The Egg,” in which Jefferson, Adams and Franklin argue about which bird should symbolize the new nation—a turkey, dove or eagle. Contemplating the birth of our country as the hatching of an egg, hear Jefferson say, “If only we could be sure of what kind of a bird it’s going to be.”


Here we are, 241 years later, asking that question, as we must do every Independence Day: What kind of a nation are we going to be? Perhaps Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, joining their voices at the very end of the song, point us in the right direction.

“The eagle inside belongs to us.” That’s right, don’t you think? Not a king or a president, a dictator or a demigod—all of us—we the people.  

Entry Filed under: Fig Tree Notes Archives

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Nations will hammer swords into plows, their spears into sickles, there shall be no more training for war. Each person will sit under his or her fig tree in peace.
Micah 4:3 - 4