By: Lou Yeboah
America’s 4th of July Celebration – “What to the American Slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
“I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! This Fourth [of] July is yours not mine. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. You may rejoice, I must mourn. Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.”
“I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Celebrating the Fourth of July just makes the United States look even worse than it did before.” [Frederick Douglass “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July 1852?]
The American people have this lesson to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. [Southern Barbarism” speech on the occasion of the 24th Anniversary of Emancipation, Washington, D.C., 1886].
It astounds me sometimes that a country proclaiming itself as “The Land of the Free,” still struggles to this day to grant its own citizens this civil right. The document written clearly declares our commitment to “unalienable Rights” defined as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It even goes so far as to say that when a government fails to protect these rights, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish it, and that a leader whose actions resemble a tyrant cannot be trusted to rule and uphold the freedom of the people.
Take a snapshot of the United States at this exact moment, and you will realize that we do not have good governance, and that many in our country still lack the rights which the Declaration of Independence deems “inalienable.” This note was a promise that “ALL” men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”
The Fourth of July, therefore, currently has little meaning for African Americans outside of being a wonderful outdoor holiday with food, family and fireworks. It will remain so until the community unifies, embraces a common set of empowering values, and rises out of psychological enslavement. Black people will remain “un-independent,” i.e., not independent, as long as there is a dependence upon a white supremacist infrastructure to set it free.
Douglass’ speech is as relevant today as it was in 1852. What, to us, is the Fourth of July when our freedoms are provisional and subject to alteration? Our current political climate speaks volumes on our country’s interpretation of freedom. If you are not white, your freedom is conditional, not a guarantee. Adding Insult to Injury!