September 26, 2023

America’s Independence

Frederick Douglas was a prominent figure during the Abolition Movement and made strides in getting himself and others to freedom. He gave a speech titled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852, that reminded Black people to not be fooled by America’s independence. In the speech, Douglas never referred to American independence as mine or ours, he continuously used the word yours. He stated, “The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history —the very ring—bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.” Douglas knew that no matter what, this celebration would mean nothing to him because of the shackles that were still present around many slaves. Douglas knew the “disparity between” the free and the enslaved as he mentioned, “I am not included within this glorious occasion.”

There was no life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for Black people-only bondage. It was noted that the 4th of July should really be a day of mourning because America did not keep her promise that “all men are created equal…with certain unalienable rights.” This did not include Black people then, and in some cases, still does not include Black people today as we are still fighting some of the same fights our ancestors fought.

July 4th is recognized as America’s independence from Great Britain. The Continental Congress voted in favor of this independence on July 2nd, 1776, and two days later the Declaration of Independence was adopted from the 13 colonies, which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson. However, while America was free, Blacks were still enslaved. July 4th became a federal holiday in 1941, and is celebrated by many people every year through parades, fireworks, family gatherings, etc.

It wasn’t until January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves are and henceforward shall be free.” This was 87 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For 87 years, Black people had to sit back, and watch America celebrate freedom but continued to enslave millions of people. Although the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, there were many states, including Texas, that still enslaved Blacks.

Tanesha Grant said, “The 4th of July was never about Black people,” and how we as a culture should continue to celebrate Juneteenth instead. She continued and said, “Juneteenth is just for us. As Black people, we are told we don’t deserve our own holidays rooted in our own history. Everything is whitewashed. Juneteenth is for us… Juneteenth symbolizes the hope that my children and grandchildren will be free. It’s Black Joy and Black tenacity to survive.” What she described is something that we as a culture have never experienced with the 4th of July.

In closing, Douglas also stated, “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.” Learn from the past, never forget it, and make it count for now. So, how will you celebrate the 4th of July?



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