PHILADELPHIA — In the 238 years since representatives from 13 colonies signed a document pledging that all men are created equal, the country is still striving to give those words full meaning, Vice President Joe Biden said at an Independence Day event in the nation's birthplace.
Biden spoke at the annual Fourth of July "Celebration of Freedom" ceremony at Independence Hall, joining other speakers in also noting the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision ending school segregation.
Biden said the principles behind the Declaration of Independence led to passage of landmark legislation on civil rights, age discrimination, fair housing, those with disabilities, women and "the civil rights issue of our day, making it clear that you should be able to marry whoever you love — period."
"Ladies and gentlemen, ultimately that's what we're celebrating today — the continuation of the expansion of the notion that all men are created equal," he said Friday. "There's been a constant march in America on the road to guaranteeing every man, woman and child the dignity that you're entitled to. ... That's what these men who said in this building behind me fully understood."
The "Celebration of Freedom" ceremony was part of the Wawa Welcome America Festival, sponsored by the Wawa convenience store chain. Besides the opening speeches and parade, featured events included an evening concert with performances by The Roots, Nicki Minaj and Ed Sheeran.
Before Biden spoke, Mayor Michael Nutter also noted the nation's progress in achieving equality for all but called education "the civil rights issue of the 21st century," saying inequalities there can last a lifetime.
"Anyone in America can sit anywhere they want at any lunch counter," Nutter said. "But could they pay for the meal?"
Biden and Nutter then joined a short parade through historic Philadelphia, greeted by many people but also met with signs from a group decrying the nation's involvement in Iraq and its use of drones.
The vice president bounded from side to side of the route, seemingly unbothered by the light rain, shaking hands, posing for photos and even sitting down at a restaurant table to the surprise of the three people sitting there.
"I thought I was going to get a hug," said Adrienne Soresi, who was celebrating her first 4th of July as a Philadelphia resident with two friends. "He came jumping over and sat right down. Super cool. I totally didn't expect it at all."
The vice president later greeted a group of camouflage-clad personnel from Dover Air Force Base, which is in his home state, Delaware.
"It's great to see you guys, man," he said. "You're the finest young warriors the world has ever seen."
At the parade's end, The Franklin Fountain ice cream shop co-owner Ryan Berley gave Biden and Nutter sugar cones with two scoops of homemade chocolate chip ice cream, saying he chose the flavor because it's Nutter's favorite.
"Chocolate chip," he said, "is a good all-American flavor."