A routine morning one time long ago was grinding along in a newsroom in another town. Then something odd happened.
A phone call came in with a hot tip. TV and movies tell you that kind of thing happens all the time in newsrooms. No, it doesn’t. It’s rare. Normally, reporters have to find out news on their own with no help.
A Chinese delegation was touring a mill, someone said over the phone. This was before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Having communists in our midst still was novel then. The caller said hurry and come over before the guests leave.
The boss told me to go. I hustled over and joined the group at mid-tour. I didn’t get to introduce myself till the end. I said I was from the local newspaper.
“Are you with the government?” one of the Chinese asked.
I bristled. I had been well schooled in the principles of freedom of the press and the press’ self-appointed role as watchdog of government and much else. I struggled for just the right reply.
“No. We’re independent,” was the best I could come up with off the cuff. I’m not sure I got across the notion that the government has no role in the operations of the American press.
Another time someone brought to the Tribune office a guest from Mexico. Upon learning that I was a reporter the visitor from south of the border started pumping me for information about the police.
Did the police chief ever came to the Tribune, the visitor asked. Monroe Wagoner was police chief then as he is now.
No, I honestly replied, I had never seen the chief at the Tribune. It was hard enough for me to get to see him at the police department, I joked.
The foreign visitor did not smile.
The common thread in both of these stories is how differently men from their respective societies viewed authority, specifically government authority.
I had no problems from Chief Wagoner or from any other government official during all the years I went about plying my newspaper trade. I gave nary a thought to reprisal from anything I reported.
In other words, I enjoyed the blessings of liberty, defined by the Webster dictionary as being able to speak and act freely. I don’t think that modern Americans duly appreciate our liberty. We’ve had it for so long it’s become second nature. It’s become old hat.
My thoughts drift back to the 1849 newspaper obituary of a great-great-great-great grandfather of mine who was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Liberty was a theme in the memorial.
“He had resolved to sacrifice all for the priceless privileges of freedom,” according to the obituary of William Harris in the “Carolina Watchman” newspaper in Salisbury on Jan 11, 1849. “He was well prepared to appreciate all that liberty bestows.”
I wish that ol’ William could have told those Chinese and Mexican visitors a thing or two about liberty.
We just don’t talk about liberty like that any more. We may never feel such a passion again until our liberty is at risk.
May God spare us from such a thing. Bicker if you must about income inequality and such. But remember on this hallowed day that we have such wonderful liberty here.
With all of the troubles around us, if you don’t feel much like celebrating on this Fourth of July, then may I suggest celebrating our liberty? There’re many who can’t.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
Back In The Hometown