So let us examine the clauses in the above-mentioned quote. For one, I see nothing self-evident in granting freedom to a population that had nothing to do with the wealth and status of America. America was built on the backs of slaves. I see nothing noble in the year 1776 because over a hundred and fifty years prior, in the year of 1619 to be exact, the first American slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. These 20 slaves would be the first of over 40 million to forcefully inhabit what would become the United States of America–a country whose name doesn’t even own up to its claims. And equality? The first time I flipped through the three pages of African American reference that I found in an “American history” book in middle school, I learned that slaves were not fully granted freedom until 1865, and even then they were not considered equal. I would praise the toes of any person who could explain how Blacks were included in the phrase “all Men are created equal” when it was nearly impossible to find a White person who addressed African Americans as anything other than “boy” or other derogatory names. Before Abraham Lincoln even thought about writing the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was still shackling the minds and handcuffing the spirits of Blacks across the country.
So maybe, then, Independence Day should be reconsidered for African Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation was announced on January 1st, 1863, and on January 31st, 1865, the thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution would reinforce the abolition of slavery. Yet it took almost a year for three-fourths of the 36 states to ratify the constitution. Mississippi, home to the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, didn’t ratify the amendment until 1995! Georgia, the final state needed to pass the amendment, ratified it on December 6th of 1865. This perhaps could be the proper Independence Day for African Americans, one that would hold up to the famous clause in the declaration. Yet still, African Americans found themselves not pursuing but fighting for the life, liberty, and happiness that White America had achieved in 1776.
The reconstruction era, noble in idea but faulty in execution, spanned from 1865 to 1877. It attempted to reverse the effects of slavery by instituting schools, living areas, and medical care for the freedmen. Yet sharecropping became a frequent way of living. Grandfather clauses and Black Codes restricted the lifestyles of African Americans, followed by Jim Crow laws that sprouted in the 1890s. Court cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson only reinforced the concept of segregation, a definite negation of the concept of equality as stated in the constitution. “Separate but equal” shouldn’t even have been the phrase because Black schools and neighborhoods were never as developed as those of Whites.
This injustice continued straight into the 20th century, whose problem would be the color line as so wisely stated by W.E.B. Du Bois. The civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s would reinforce African America’s belief in true equality and opportunities in this country, where “Land of the Free” can honestly be voiced when singing the national anthem.
Evidently, the Fourth of July has represented nothing except the independence of White Colonial America. Even throughout the centuries following the arrival of the Declaration of Independence, African Americans still had to experience acts of injustice, inhumanity, and inequality. With so much history still left unmentioned, my hope is that this article will make everyone think before they spark fireworks and bite into hot dogs on the year’s most popular American summer day. Every time I look at the American Flag, I wonder who those colors belong to. The red, perhaps the blood of every whip-lashed slave; the white, reminiscent of the cotton that built the backbone of this country; the blue, the color of waters that harbor the spirits of millions of noble slaves. I don’t know when the true Independence Day should be, but I know that I cannot properly celebrate a national holiday when it took so long for the entire nation to actually be a part of it.
“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.” –Frederick Douglass, Independence Day Speech in Rochester, 1841.