Cornerstone of freedom

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 20, 2004

At 10 a.m. on April 19, 1775, men and women with a dream began a fight that would bring about the greatest country on earth.

Years later – 229, in fact – another group of men and women with a dream gathered to ensure the efforts of those first pioneers would always be remembered.

Local and state officials as well as a number of local residents gathered Monday at The American Village on the 229th anniversary of the first battle of the American Revolution to lay the &uot;Cornerstone of Liberty.&uot;

Village executive director Tom Walker said the cornerstone is a large stone of what will be the 10-foot-tall base for a monument that will hold an 18-foot-high heroic-sized sculpture of Liberty, who has come to represent the United States.

Monday’s cornerstone ceremony, however, represents much more than the physical laying of a stone, Walker said.

&uot;Today’s ceremonies – and indeed the very mission and the day-to-day work of The American Village – are based on thanksgiving for a very simple set of beliefs that unite us as American citizens,&uot; he said, indicating the belief that America is founded on a &uot;cornerstone of liberty.&uot;

The cornerstone represents a belief that liberty is the equal right of everyone and that it will always be a risk.

&uot;And that each generation would be called as stewards to defend and sustain it,&uot; Walker said.

Liberty’s protection was regarded as an experiment in the hands of the people, Walker said, indicating that was the reason for Monday’s gathering.

&uot;For these reasons, The American Village came to be – to help build good citizens. The American Village is not about the classroom buildings that you see; rather, it is about building in the hearts and minds of young people and other visitors, a sense of stewardship of that sacred fire of liberty,&uot; Walker said.

That is a feeling shared by President George W. Bush, who launched a major initiative in September 2002 to teach American history and civics to children with &uot;large and disturbing gaps in their knowledge of history,&uot; he said.

President Bush sent greetings to those who gathered Monday.

&uot;Our founders believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every American’s education. My administration is working to engage students in learning more about American history, increase their civic involvement and deepen their love for our great country,&uot;

he said.

He congratulated those interpreters, officials and other employees who work at The Village.

&uot;By helping to educate students about American history, civics and government, you are making our nation’s achievements, ideas and heroes more accessible and relevant to the lives of our young people,&uot; President Bush said.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley agreed.

He told those gathered during the ceremony that he believed history and civics education go hand in hand with building a first class education system, &uot;giving young people the knowledge and skills to be good, patriotic citizens.&uot;

&uot;Every president – from George Washington to George W. Bush – has urged this nation that if it wants to be free, it must teach its young people American history and civics,&uot; Gov. Riley said.

He convened the Cornerstone of Liberty Commission to provide leadership in moving the Village toward a series of goals including preparation for 250,000 visitors each year.

The laying of the 1,800-pound cornerstone to the Liberty monument was the first step toward that future.

Liberty will stand on top of a pedestal of four bronze tablets depicting important scenes in attaining the country’s independence.

On four large panels at the base will be words from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Liberty herself stands drawing the 13 colonies together in their quest for independence. She is about to crush the crown of tyranny with the chains of slavery and despotism clearly the next to be crushed. She also holds a lantern, depicting what George Washington called the &uot;sacred fire&uot; of liberty, which lights her path and the paths of all Americans.

Other progress highlighted by the governor included the completion of the Colonial Chapel, which is now open and being used for weddings and recitals.

The privately funded chapel is patterned after the Bruton Parish Church of Colonial Williamsburg.

Gov. Riley also told those gathered that the Barn will be dedicated this summer. The Barn has been renovated as an all-purpose space for receptions, rainy day lunches, theatrical performances, musical recitals and more.

The governor said a generous gift from ALFA has made the Barn possible. Also featured in the barn will be exhibits portraying agriculture from the colonial era to modern times.

Gov. Riley said a new visitors center was also planned. There will be space for meetings, food service and better visitor orientation.

&uot;It’s a big project,&uot; he said, &uot;but the city of Pelham and particularly Mayor Bobby Hayes and the City Council just recently stepped forward here in Shelby County – setting an example by their leadership.&uot;

The governor said the city has committed $400,000 to this project &uot;because they know that in addition to the good educational work here, the American Village represents an economic and tourism boost for this county and this area of the state.&uot;

Other projects planned for the future include the Village’s Oval Office expansion and use as a Presidential Classroom; a library; growth of the American Village Teaching Fund; and the use of the Village as a Veterans Living Legacy to honor the service of veterans and members of the armed forces.

Gov. Riley said a Veterans Federal Hall and the location of a new National Veterans Cemetery may also be in the future of the Village.

Walker said The American Village faces a great challenge.

&uot;The teaching of American history and civics is not an optional elective that is chosen if we have the interest, or the money, or the time to take it.

&uot;Rather, it is an indispensable education, a duty we owe our country, without which good citizenship and indeed, our nation, cannot long flourish,&uot; he said.

The stakes are high, Walker said.

&uot;And among the greatest challenges facing our country in addition to an alarming erosion of our national memory is a growing belief that one individual cannot make a difference,&uot; he said.

&uot;American history teaches that the success of any worthy labor depends on the personal belief that I can make a difference as one individual, that you can make a difference as one individual and that we can make a difference as a people united.