Should African-Americans Celebrate the Fourth of July?

Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood

by Reggie Fullwood

Happy Birthday America. Exactly 241 years ago our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence.  Many of the forefathers would be extremely proud of their “baby.”  The United States of America quickly ascended to world prominence and has been considered the leader of the free world for decades.

I have to think that several of the forefathers are turning over in their graves with the election of the last two presidents. The Donald because he has hurt America’s reputation internationally and is a narcissistic maniac.  The President Obama because many of the founding father never thought that a black man could ever be elected to the highest office in the land.

Remember the Declaration’s chief architect, Thomas Jefferson, was disappointed at many of the amendments.

Jefferson had condemned slavery in his original draft. He wrote in a letter, “The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it.”

While Jefferson may have been a major opponent of slavery, no legislation of the magnitude of the Declaration of Independence can be passed without some considerable compromises being made.

Unfortunately, slavery was one of those concessions.

It is no secret that blacks have always played prominent rolls in building the foundation of this great country without much recognition of our contributions.  It’s also no secret that Independence Day was celebrated for years while blacks were enslaved and segregated in this great nation.

So many holidays are celebrated without Americans understanding the original purpose of the day. My question is simple: because the abolition of slavery was deliberately left out of the Declaration of Independence should blacks even recognize the Fourth of July as our holiday as well?

The great black leader and abolitionist Frederick Douglas asked the same question on July 5, 1852, when he gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

During his speech he simply asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”

Douglas adds, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

In what probably has become his most popular speech, Douglas asked the crowd, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”

A nation founded on the principles of freedom and justice for all certainly has never lived up to its creed. Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Our great nation has not always accepted the responsibility of providing a level playing field to all of its citizens.

So as Douglas challenged his audience over 150 years ago, I would challenge you today to think about our country and if it has lived up to its creed. You probably do not have to think long.

Think about the U.S. justice system alone.  Forget discrimination in housing, education and Corporate America, the justice system continues to be a haven of inequality. Think about the number of people that have murdered unarmed black men and the courts have  failed to punish them. From Trayvon Martin to Philando Castile, we should be embarrassed as Americans.

For so many years America’s Declaration of Independence, the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty was a false document.

The first sentence of the second paragraph was the largest falsehood. “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.”

In theory it sounds great.  It sounds like the founding fathers were truly dedicated to equality, justice and opportunity, but we know that history tells a much different story.

Getting back to the irony that for years we celebrated this country’s “independence” while a large portion of our citizens (e.g. African Americans) didn’t share the same liberties as the majority.

Of course so much has changed since the Declaration of Independence. African Americans have truly achieved in this country. But here’s the central problem. Racism and discrimination are still at the forefront of American society.

Of course, we can’t forget about electing and re-electing our first African American president of the United States. Yes, we have achieved, but the question still lingers – should blacks celebrate the 4th of July?

Yes. We should celebrate because blacks help make America what it is today – the most powerful nation in the world.  And while I may criticize my country and it’s policies – especially Donald Trump, but I love being an American.  Despite our nations past, I still think that this is the best country in the world for African Americans to live.

Hopefully everyone enjoyed Independence Day.

Signing off from a cookout near you,

Reggie Fullwood

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