Discover the often overlooked history of July 4th for Black Americans and its ongoing relevance in the fight for social justice.

Articulated Insight – “News, Race and Culture in the Information Age”

Independence Day, colloquially known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence in the United States. The Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration on July 4, 1776, establishing the United States of America.

July 4 is associated with fireworks, parades, carnivals, fairs, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, political speeches, and ceremonies. In addition, Americans commemorate the day with various other public and private events celebrating this country’s history, government, and traditions.

Yet, many Black Americans remain ambivalent about this holiday.

One reason is of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 41 owned slaves. For example, at age thirty-three, Thomas Jefferson, who would become the third President of the United States, owned more than 600 slaves during his lifetime, the most of any occupant of the White House.  

Having grown up in Virginia around slaves, Jefferson, who acquired most of his slaves through inheritance, also bought and sold them.  In addition, Jefferson fathered two children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings.

Another reason is Blacks were not considered when the Declaration of Independence was signed. As the signers wrote, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” into the document, the forefathers and foremothers of Blacks, indentured servants, or women did not even have the luxury of being an afterthought. 

Indeed, the Declaration’s final version does not reference slavery. A passage condemning slavery was removed before the document was signed.

Therefore, it’s completely understandable why, for Blacks,  the significance of July 4 does not carry the weight and importance that it does in the households of White Americans and those from other ethnic groups.  

It makes sense that Blacks align themselves more with Juneteenth than they do with this federal holiday.

Truthfully, The Declaration of Independence is not the symbol of American Democracy that makes Blacks uncomfortable. Many find it offensive even as they rise, place their right hand over their hearts, and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting and other public events.

The author, a 34-year-old lawyer named Francis Scott Key, spoke of Black people being a “distinct and inferior race, only supporting the emancipation of enslaved people only if they were immediately shipped to Africa.

One original verse reads, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror or flight or groom of the grave.” 

The “Star-Spangled Banner” did not become America’s National Anthem for a century after it was written.

Key went on to serve as the District Attorney for Washington, D.C., during the administration of President Andrew Jackson. In this capacity, he further cemented his racist beliefs and behavior by strictly enforcing slave laws and prosecuting abolitionists who passed out pamphlets mocking his claim of America as “the land of the free, home of the brave.”

Why are Black Americans daily reminded that two of the premier pinnacles of American Democracy, the Declaration of Independence and “Starr-Spangled Banner,” are rooted in centuries-old racism? 

Why did White America react the way it did when Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during pre-game singing of the National Anthem to protest and highlight the police brutality against Blacks?

And why were those Americans so offended by their perception of disrespect to the American flag by Kaepernick for a bent knee, not similarly offended by supporters of Donald J.  Trump, when they used the same American flag on poles to brutalize U.S. Capitol police officers on January 6, 2021?

in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852,  Frederick Douglass delivered the keynote address at an Independence Day celebration, asking, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He noted “that the nation’s fathers were great men for their ideals of freedom. But in doing so, he brings awareness  to the hypocrisy of their ideals  by the existence of slavery on American soil.”

In his scathing speech, Douglass also stated, “The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice.  I must mourn.”

Those Blacks who choose not to celebrate July 4 should never be viewed or condoned as un-American. Instead, they should be considered authentic Americans committed to reminding America that it has fallen short of the Declaration of Independence’s words of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all Americans.

Only then will July 4 be a federal holiday to celebrate and commemorate all Black Americans.

#July4th #BlackAmericans #IndependenceDay

#July4th #BlackHistory #SocialJustice

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