As a child, I couldn’t wait for the Fourth of July. We got new outfits, had a barbecue for the family and lit a few fireworks before ending the celebration with a major fireworks show at the park. That’s what the Fourth of July meant to me.
I don’t think anyone I know ever called it Independence Day. Maybe that’s why, for me, there’s somewhat of a disconnect with the holiday’s true meaning. I learned about Independence Day in school. I knew Independence Day and the Fourth of July are technically the same thing, but the two are different, at least for me. I’m reconciling that difference as I write this.
For a while now I’ve seen posts on social media shaming Black people who celebrate the Fourth of July because as we know the Founding Fathers didn’t include slaves in the Declaration of Independence. In fact, some of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. It’s quite ironic that as a group of men created and signed a document for their freedom, they freely held another group of men (and women and children) in bondage, and this didn’t seem to cause them an ounce of lost sleep.
The irony doesn’t stop there. Crispus Attucks has been widely celebrated as the first person to die in the Boston Massacre, which started the Revolutionary War. Hence, Attucks was the first person to die in the Revolutionary War. Attucks was of African and Native American descent. The first man who died for this country wasn’t included in the Declaration of Independence. How’s that for irony?
This wouldn’t be the last time a descendent of slaves fought and died for this country only to face abuse at the hands of fellow soldiers as well as the country at large. Many Black men fought for freedoms they never enjoyed. I can’t imagine the hurt and disappointment Black soldiers felt when they risked life and limb abroad only to return home and be denied service at a restaurant. Black soldiers hoped the dignity and pride felt on the battlefields would transfer to the country they loved, but didn’t love them back. A country that was more than happy to use them and discard them as though they had no value — because they didn’t. Not to America, anyway.
So when people celebrate the red, white and blue and Independence Day these are the thoughts that go through my mind. I wonder whose independence are we celebrating because my ancestors weren’t included. All slaves weren’t free until 1865 — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that slaves in Texas knew they were freed two years earlier. This is why we celebrate Juneteenth — a holiday I never heard of until in college. The 13th Amendment ratified the abolition of slavery in 1865. It took another 89 years for white Americans to think Black people in this country deserved freedom. Again, the irony was lost on them.
Yes, the slaves were freed, but what did freedom look like? Sharecropping? Jim Crow? Legal segregation? This so-called freedom came with a lot of stipulations for Black people. Black people had to live a certain way and keep their freedom in check. Many of the rules and fears from slavery were still in place. While a great many white Americans fought for and wanted Black Americans to enjoy the same freedoms they had, many did not and the ones who didn’t had no qualms about not only showing but voicing their displeasure.
So when we celebrate the Fourth of July, I’m not celebrating Independence Day. I can’t speak for all Black people and never would presume to, but I wonder how many of us unconsciously do the same. I don’t think my parents or other family members made a conscious decision to separate the holiday into semantics. I know I never did.
So I’m going to keep celebrating the Fourth of July. A day off of work filled with food, family and fun (also my niece’s birthday), but I think I’ll pass on Independence Day. I’ll save that celebration for Juneteenth when everyone in this country became free.