By Roy Douglas Malonson
It is no secret that America has always had two shades of color – Black and White. American history in times past classified any individual of any race, who was not Black, as White. Freedom as it relates to the American culture is no different. U.S. History clearly reflects this. For the 4th of July declared all men are free and equal, but WE didn’t get our so-called democracy until Juneteenth.” But, even with that, Blacks still were not completely free and equal.
The beginning of understanding Shades of Freedom in American society, rests in two historical dates in the nation’s history, July 4, 1776 and June 19, 1865.
One Shade of Freedom: July 4, 1776 (Independence Day)
Amid the Revolutionary War, colonists began talk of gaining independence from Great Britain. Although initially there was not a complete mutual agreement with other colonists in the States, eventually a unified consensus was established. Hence, the birth of American freedom was voted in on July 2, 1776 by the Continental Congress. On July 4 of that same year, delegates from the 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson. That date marked the official independence of America. That was, at least for one shade of the country’s inhabitants.
According to History.com, John Adams was one of the first to encourage the celebration of Independence Day. Although he wrote to his wife, Abigail that it should be celebrated on July 2; the manner of celebration he proposed is one which is still regarded by millions of Americans today.
He declared events such as: “Pomp and Parade, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other;” were in order to commemorate the historical date.
The first documented commemoration of Independence Day was in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. Nearly a century later Congress declared Independence Day a federal holiday. In 1941, an amendment was added to grant a paid holiday to all federal employees.
Since that time, the Fourth of July has remained a celebratory holiday for Americans everywhere. Fireworks, barbecues, concerts, parades, family reunions and other leisure activities have become a customary tradition in honor of American independence.
But, wait… Who exactly benefitted from America’s Independence Day; especially when Blacks were still in bondage and under oppression? Was it possible for a people to truly be free, while in physical bondage and captivity all at the same time???
Another Shade of Freedom: June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth)
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” – Declaration of Independence
Being victims of such control as absolute tyranny from Great Britain, ignited a strong desire for freedom from Britain amongst American colonists. It is from experiencing this ill-treatment that the Declaration of Independence also declares, “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.” Anyone who has any type of American history knowledge, understands that this statement is an oxymoron at best, when considering Juneteenth.
Furthermore, one may wonder… Why one shade of people would subject another shade to the similar ill-treatment they struggled to break free from? For those wondering minds, the answer is simple.
There are two shades of freedom in America.
While one shade of America began enjoying freedom on July 4, 1776, it would take over a century later before the other shade would even touch freedom’s hem. Africans in America who had been enslaved since as early as 1619 did not see a sign of freedom until January 1, 1863. It was on this date that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The document confirmed that all individuals enslaved in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
However, it took over two years before slaves in Texas got the news. On June 19, 1865, a native of New York, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Bay with an entourage of troops. Granger stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa and read aloud General Order No. 3, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed it could not be fully enforced until after the war. Nevertheless, Texans marked this day in history as Juneteenth. It became the official day of the abolition of slavery in the South. Quite naturally, Juneteenth was only pivotal point in history for one shade of people. As such, it never received the widespread recognition and attention as the Fourth of July. Even though Juneteenth happened, it was 1979 before the first American state (Texas), even regarded it as an official holiday. To this day, only 39 states recognize Juneteenth. But, to most southern African-Americans it marks a day of the truest freedom Our Shade will ever know.
I will close with the words of Frederick Douglass the abolitionist. In his 1852 Independence Day oration he rhetorically asks, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” He then answered, “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is constant victim.”