A crowd of spectators stood in front of the 1903 Bartow County Courthouse to hear the public reading from law professionals in an event organizers hope will be the beginning of a tradition.
"I don't think we often remember what the declaration actually says. Frankly, it had been a while since I'd read it, and it's fairly short -- we can't read the Constitution, we'd be here all day. ... But we think it is important and we hope to be able to do this every year," said Bartow County Chief Assistant Public Defender Kelley Dial. "There's a nationwide movement to have something similar on the last business day before the Fourth and it's generally spearheaded by criminal defense lawyers, but here we wanted to ask the local bar to come too. So we had all of us, we had judges and a little bit of everything."
In her address to those present, Dial described the inspiration behind Tuesday's reading.
"We're not reading the declaration because it's a perfect document, it's not. Certainly, our founding fathers had some beliefs that we no longer hold true, but what we do come to celebrate in reading these beautifully written words is the enduring belief that there are certain rights that belong to all of us that are not subject to debate. This makes the declaration both timeless and timely. The majority of the signers of this document were lawyers so we feel it is particularly appropriate to lead this event," Dial said.
Dated July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence set forth the intention of the American colonies to cut ties with Great Britain. The rights referenced by Dial are captured in part by the document's most often-quoted lines.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," reads the Declaration of Independence.
While the portions committed to memory speak to rights now enjoyed, the declaration is primarily a list of wrongs committed by Great Britain under the rule of King George III. The words contained therein were an act of treason and escalated the burgeoning war.
Remembering this courageous act is one of the reasons Fulton County Juvenile Court Defense Attorney Meghann Humphreys participated in the local reading with fellow attorneys in her home county.
"This is basically our nation's kickoff. This is what finally got them serious," Humphreys said. "And they did it, they made that giant leap and we need to remember them for that and this is a great way to do that."