In the past couple lectures, we have been reading about the experiences of Frederick Douglass. Though I found myself moved while reading his narrative, I found that what especially sparked ember deep within was “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”? Douglass states “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license…” While reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” I couldn’t help but think about how Frederick Douglass viewed the Fourth of July and how the common slave would view the Fourth of July. To Douglass and the American slave, the Fourth of July is a mockery, an insult and a slap in the face. Douglass and other slaves live in the United States but do not have the rights of citizenship. Douglass poses the question of why he was asked to speak of a national independence that he claims he or none of the people he represents can truly embrace. He states, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your nation independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” The answer is simply no. Douglass gives this speech prior to slaves being emancipated. Slaves at this point in time have neither natural rights expressed by God or the Constitution but no civil, political or social rights as well.
After reading some of the above quotes, I immediately thought about how I could connect this particular reading to be relevant to today to hopefully make an interesting blog post. So after some thought, I came to the conclusion to write about how the black citizen today might feel about the Fourth of July? I had never really thought about the issue at hand. So I asked friends and family to help me frame how black Americans might think about the Fourth of July. When asking my friends, black University of Michigan students, they looked puzzled to my question and why I was asking. I asked them to read a small excerpt of “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” They too said that they had never thought about it. After much consideration, we all began to speak. Two of my best friends at the University said that when they thought about the holiday, Independence didn’t really cross their minds. This view being very different from the view of Douglass, they explained to me that where they are from, the Fourth was an excuse for friends and family to get together and have a cookout and spending time with each other.
So my experience being very different, I explained how the Fourth was celebrated with my family. I grew up a military child so the Fourth was specially a day of importance around the Military families. But as I think about it, we always celebrated the holiday with my grandparents and cousins. For us it was also an excuse to shove a much food into our faces as possible. After my high school graduation, my dad moved us Iowa. He just recently retired from the U.S. Military after twenty-four years. I now live in a predominantly white area, I’m talking we are one of the few black families that live within my city. After being home for the summer this year, I remember coming back from Chicago to find that our neighbors had placed a large American Flag in our front yard. This was very bizarre to me. I had never experienced such action before. But back to the original question. What to the black citizen is the Fourth of July? Why isn’t it as important to the black community as it is to say my kind neighbors in Iowa? I think you can answer this question by stressing the importance of family. Blacks originally didn’t have citizenship and deep within the black community, family was relied on to make it through tough times. I am not saying the all black Americans celebrate the Fourth in the same manner but family and the community has been the foundation of the black community. And maybe this is worth thinking about. What do you think?