Asked to deliver remarks about the 4th of July to residents of his hometown, Rochester, NY, Frederick Douglass didn’t mince words. On July 5, 1852, during that 76th anniversary of all things red, white and blue, Douglass made plain his answer to the question, “Should blacks celebrate America’s independence,” saying:
“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruellity 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.”
In other words, no. However, in the 169 years since Douglass blindsided that New York crowd with hard black facts, much has changed in America.
Or has it?
In all quality-of-life indicators, blacks remain woefully at the bottom, be they health, economic or education-related. Additionally, the national wealth enjoyed by blacks has scarcely changed since 1865, the year blacks were emancipated.
In that year, blacks controlled 0.5 percent of national wealth. In 1990, that amount had only increased by 0.5 percent, to a “whopping” 1 percent.
Moreover, of the 14 GOP U.S. House members who voted against making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all have either evidenced support of white power organizations and events, supported state Confederate Memorial Days or sided with other such things that many interpret as anti-black.
Shawn D. Rochester, author of The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America, laid out some harrowing numbers. First, the value of the labor stolen from enslaved blacks has been estimated to be from $24-$97 trillion.
Second, the value of four million enslaved blacks, America’s most valuable commodity at the time, was $15.5 trillion in terms of wealth and $28 trillion in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
Third, the net worth (economic value) of blacks in the 21st century is roughly $1.5 trillion, or 15 times lower than when enslaved.
Rochester’s point: racism and discrimination have cost blacks $70-trillion and thus created today’s massive racial wealth gap, economically leaving blacks in nearly the same economic shape experienced in 1865, just 13 years after Douglass’ famous speech.
Thus, the Defender asked if Douglass’ position on the 4th of July question still applies.
Here’s what the people said:
Black people celebrating the 4th of July is a clear and precise sign of cognitive dissonance. Who would expect Native Americans to celebrate Christopher Columbus Day? We define our own Liberation and Independence. – Kalongi Ejike
Yes, I use it as another day to honor the ancestors and all that we have sacrificed for this country, as well as imagine/conjure/ manifest what we want this country to be. Plus, family. Always celebrate family. – Monica Evans Antonio
How does one celebrate 4th of July? Will I take the day off? Heck yeah. Will I spend time with family and friends? Probably. Will I unapologetically worship this country? No. – Nile Dixon
Nah, I’m good. Once I began the journey of truth-confirming, I stopped celebrating many things. – Dorothy Sunshyne Gonzales Jones
I don’t pledge allegiance or stand up for the national anthem. Therefore, I do not celebrate the Fourth of July other than the reason that it is my birth date. -Thomas Flood
Hmmm a great question! Isn’t this particularly why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not observe national and nationally religious holidays? They understand the man-centered bias and manipulating that has gone into every holiday that is nationally observed in order to socially control society. So every Christian should ask this question over every nationally observed holiday and make sure that they are celebrating the good in it or the good that CAN be in it, if there is any good that can be celebrated in a national holiday. I can see the black community celebrating July 4th if they are celebrating the idealism of America, of freedom and equality, even though as we know that freedom and equality was only for certain kinds of people and for worldly reasons. If a reconciliation of understanding was made with American politics and institutions then I can see a progressive view of July 4th being celebrated. But the understanding of the perspective of why what needs to be made clear and public by the reconciling black and white communities that are choosing to participate. And education and national understanding of black history untold needs to be elevated and supported in this as well. No more rewriting or hushing history and making us all just love “America” as envisioned by white society only. –Howard Lee Thomas III
Hell no! – Tendai Fudail
I don’t think “black” folks should subscribe to or participate in any facet of American society until comprehensive reform that amounts to “equity” occurs in America. That requires us to be self-determined. A people that are dependent on an oppressive system don’t have a damned thing to celebrate except birthdays. – Sentwali Olushola
I think we may, the 4th has always been more about family getting together than anything else. With COVID and other things that have been going on, we will more than likely be celebrating each other on the 4th. – Abayomi Allen
We’ve never celebrated the 4th, but since everybody was off work it was a good time for family reunion. – Norma Thomas Last year, our nephew suggested we exchange July 4 with Juneteenth. Some of us celebrated Juneteenth, and I believe more of our family will next year. We will do July 4 this year. If the Lord blesses and spares me, I might stop celebrating July 4 and Thanksgiving. Still, I think Juneteenth and the Fourth both can be celebrated as long as we know how tenuous our freedom is. – Trinidad Baptiste
No. Not my independence. – Lieza Smith
I enjoy the day off, however I don’t celebrate the country being “free from tyranny” all the while “Merica” was getting free labor off the whipped backs of my ancestors. –Claudell Cannady
I don’t celebrate the 4th but I will take advantage of the chance to fellowship with family and friends. – Zuberi Robert Woods I’m with Frederick Douglass on the 5th of July. – Dr. Kefentse Chike
Not Black, but I haven’t celebrated it in many years & won’t ever again. What’s to celebrate when what it supposedly represents doesn’t exist & never has? -PN Kellz
My family has never celebrated 7/4; though we were well versed with Frederick Douglass’ speech at a young age. Over time, however, I have allowed that our people accept any opportunity for a summer gathering (aka cookout) with family, friends and church family, and I’ll be there!!! – Dr. Imani Karega
Since Juneteenth, I don’t feel the need. Even though my participation in the holiday dwindled over the years, it’s no longer relevant to me. I’ve been thinking that maybe “we” should boycott it all together, and do nothing. This economy runs off our dollars almost exclusively in some industry’s. If anything It’s just another day to meet up with family and bbq. -Ali’Olu David Zaid
Yes. In this day and age where there are so many negatives, any day that allows for a release and a collective sigh are more than welcome. We always enjoy the time with friends alongside the time to relax and welcome any moments to dance, rest, smile and recharge Because the fight begins again on the very next day. – Kamau Mason
We will enjoy the day but not the reason. Black people celebrating the 4th of July is like bugs celebrating Raid. – Charles Sadiki A. Brown
So, celebrate my daughter’s birthday instead. – Cynthia D. Stephens