Since this country’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 from Great Britain, generations of Blacks have had mixed feelings about its true meaning to us. For Whites, their extrication from the British motherland gave sovereignty to the settlers, the right to govern and conduct themselves as free men. For million of Blacks, however, independence was little more than free reign for those same Whites who fought for their freedom to continue their practice of enslaving millions of members of our race.

Frederick Douglass, who was born enslaved but went on to become a well-known abolitionist and orator during the 1800s, summarized the plight of Blacks decades after the declaration was signed. “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary!” he said on July 5, 1852 in his famous speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” He delivered the speech to abolitionists in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y.

“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us,” he continued. “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 light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Two-hundred and thirty six years after the declaration was signed, many Blacks are conflicted about celebrating July 4th, one of the most popular holidays in the United States. Some feel it is un-American not to celebrate the holiday, that they should let the past go, while others believe it shows ignorance to embrace a holiday that did nothing to stop the enslavement of our people.

“The reason is that Africans have to be ambivalent about an ideology that enslaved our ancestors and if given the opportunity now would diminish our rights and our human dignity,” said Molefi Kete Asante, a professor of African American Studies at Temple University. “We are working to hold back chaos as an indication of our belief in the possibility of freedom, but we cannot celebrate in peace the tremendous theft of other people’s land and wealth…”

Ronda Racha Penrice, author of “African-American History for Dummies,” wrote in an entry last year on the {NBC News} blog, {The Grio} that “the critical role African-Americans played in establishing the nation is not brought up enough.” She said Blacks’ role in the fight for our nation’s independence should be celebrated.

“The celebration of the Fourth of July, of American freedom, in particular, may have then belonged to White Americans but Douglass was mistaken in his assertion that the Fourth of July did not belong to African-Americans,” she said.

Washington, D.C.-based historian and orator C. R. Gibbs said the power of “slavocracy” was critical in the very birth of the nation and that passages critical of the slave trade were deleted from the original draft of the Declaration of Independence. He said while Blacks contributed to the war, many did so trying to escape the yoke of enslavement.

“So transfixed was America by the hypnotic stare of the idol of slavery and its promises of wealth, that it was not until Blacks began flocking to the British side that America began to reluctantly recover and start to use them in significant numbers,” he said of Black participation in the fight for freedom from Britain. “Moreover, despite the fact that before the end of the American Revolution, thousands of Americans of African descent would help the new nation secure its own freedom, there was no national commitment to abolition. Slavery became stronger than ever.”

Muhammad Raqib, 37, an African American youth counselor in Ohio, said much of his generation views July 4th without conflict. “We don’t want to hear that Black stuff. Give me a hot dog,” he said. “The majority of Blacks would rather trade our past for the latest bling-bling and have no idea about our holocaust.”

The current plight of Blacks is proof that we have still not achieved independence. Blacks have suffered disproportionately in the recession. While the unemployment rate hovers near nine percent in general, it is much higher in most areas for African Americans. Blacks still comprise the highest percent of prisoners and suffer stiffer penalties for the same crimes committed by Whites. With the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling in {Brown v. School Board of Topeka, Kan.}, approaching, majority-Black schools in most areas remain unequal to those in predominantly White communities.

“We should use this opportunity to come together as family and friends to enlighten each other of the battles before us with each passing day,” Raqib said.

DeRutter Jones conducted research for this report.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO