On this, the day after Independence Day, reveals the true state of the country’s current reality. America has celebrated one of its few high and holy days, yet there remains the obvious irony that continues to accompany Independence Day. While many privileged citizens celebrate another year of freedom, countless others are yet wrestling with the tentacles of the Declaration of Independence. Many Americans are anything but free. Simply because of who they love, the color of their skin or their religion of choice, freedom is not part of the equation. This does not expunge the mission of America to live up to the promise of freedom. However, it also does not eliminate the pain of a hope not realized.
It was this very day in 1852 that the late Frederick Douglass gave one of the most important speeches in all of American history. In fact, outside of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, it has become, a full 166 years after it was delivered, perhaps the most quoted speech from Black history in this country. While many often only see excerpts and memes of this speech, it is much more rewarding when it is read in its entirety. It is painful just how relevant and timeless these words truly are. A portion of the infamous speech, which reveals the irony of Independence Day, is noted here:
I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! 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. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th 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 denunciations 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. 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.
The fourth of July is celebrated annually in America as Independence Day. Although the country as a whole might be liberated, African-Americans have long been viewed as second-class citizens while being oppressed, mistreated, and disproportionately targeted. The Orlando massacre, murders of unarmed black men, as well as immigrants seeking asylum also highlights another portion of America that has yet to witness the benefits of freedom. For these communities, July 4th is nothing more than a day or two off work, complete with fireworks, pool parties, barbecues, and other festivities. What many have failed to accept is, Independence Day in America does not equal freedom for many of its citizens.
As social media posts flooded the internet with mixed feeling surrounding Independence Day, some felt as if people were going too deep in their emotions. The United States of America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it is hard to rationalize a holiday centered on freedom when many have not yet achieved a position of equality or the respect expressed by documents Americans hold so dear. Here the country stands, the day after Independence Day with the same sociological, economic, judicial, political, and institutionalized discrimination that were present when Douglass rendered his heartfelt speech. Given the current climate of the day, it remains difficult to grasp the “greatness” of America or the hype of its independence. As the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed in his
Independence Day still does not equal freedom for many Americans. These days, it seems the concepts of liberty and freedom are under attack. While some are celebrating the virtues of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, others are still reaching to “qualify” for the benefits of these rights.
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.
For many Americans, Independence Day is complicated. America is a great country filled with possibility. However, as long as police brutality, mass incarceration, mental slavery, LGBTQ discrimination, and unjust attacks on religious communities still exist it will remain difficult for some to declare independence. It is hard to see America from different perspectives other than your own. This country is a melting pot of culture, however, many are at the bottom of that pot while others have the liberty of stirring the pot. Even today, many blacks in America are still seeking to reconcile the delinquent check that Dr. King spoke of in this historical speech:
So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the 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 in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
Freedom is a crucial part of the American dream and is owed to Americans by right, and by virtue of the very creed that America professes to represent, “All men are created equal.” The freedom that all Americans should celebrate on Independence Day is one that men fought and died to achieve. Fresh on the heels of another celebrated holiday, Independence Day still does not equal freedom for everyone, but the hope is that all of America will come to recognize that the benefits of the celebration belong to all Americans regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
American Rhetoric: Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream”
PBS: ‘The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”
Communities Digital News: Being Black on Independence Day
Top Image Courtesy of John’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Allen Gathman’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Bryan Rosengrant’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License