On July 4, 2022, millions of people across the United States, will be celebrating this day with drinks, foods, fireworks, events, family gatherings, and so much more. The fourth of July is known as America’s birth of independence. It was the Continental Congress who voted in favor of independence on July 2, 1776. Two days later, the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson. America was now free, but what did this mean for Black people? Absolutely nothing. Black people were still not free.
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. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that officially marked the end of slavey. That was two years too many. We recently celebrated Juneteenth as it is now a national holiday signed into effect by President Biden. For many Black people, this is our independence, and not the fourth of July.
Frederick Douglas, once a slave was an important figure during the Abolitionist Movement. He continued to fight for freedom and for equality for Black people until the day he died. One of his iconic moments was during a speech he gave to his hometown on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York. He did not use this speech as a moment to celebrate America’s independence, but to remind everyone of the enslavement of many that still existed.
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.
He furthered continued his speech and discussed the “inheritance of justice, liberty, and prosperity, and independence,” which was not given to him or the people who looked like him. “The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This fourth of July is yours, not mine.”
Frederick Douglas then proposed the question, “What to the American slave, is your fourth of July?” In his response, he expressed the feelings that many slaves felt as they watched celebrations and excitement surround them but would never include them. He noted that this was the day that would more than ever remind the slave that he is just that, a slave, and a victim to infinite injustice. He called out America, who demanded her freedom and independence, but used “fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” Douglas was firm in his tone and confident with the words he used to describe that current state.
Today, even though Blacks are no longer enslaved, it seems as if we still aren’t free. We’re not free from racism, discrimination, income and wage disparities, stereotypes, social injustice, police brutality, and so much more. We are still bound by the weights that continue to try to weigh the Black race down.
So how will you celebrate the fourth of July? Deion Brown, an Education Consultant & Leadership Coach discussed what the fourth of July means to him and how he will celebrate. He stated, “Do I celebrate the day off called the fourth of July? Yes, I celebrate a day off. Do I celebrate it in the sense that American Independence is somehow indicative of my own personal, or Black or indigenous people’s freedoms? No.” This statement only confirms and enhances the words of the great Frederick Douglas that this holiday is not for us and will never be for us.
Douglas also stated, “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.” This statement explains how important history is and why we can not erase it. Without the past, there is no present or a future. We need our history now more than ever. Without it, how do we grow? How do we learn from our mistakes and misfortunes? How do we educate our future so that we are not enslaving future?
America’s freedom was not meant for Black people, so how will you celebrate the fourth of July?