Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ignored by the Declaration!

What Are America's African Americans Celebrating July 4th?
The Fourth of July is upon us and with it will come cookouts, fireworks and the spending of money that will make business owners very happy. Think Wal-Mart, Home Depot, grocery stores and gas stations aren't ecstatic about the cash that will be blown so millions around the country can eat, drink and be merry?
The day is supposed to be about America declaring its independence from the British in 1776. But that celebration is clearly overshadowed by the red, white and blue commercialism that has taken over. It's blinded most into believing what's on the grill is the most important part of the day.

Such misguided behavior is prevalent across racial lines. But just because millions do it doesn't make it right. As an African American, my biggest question is: What is it exactly that I'm celebrating? The Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776, stated in part that "All men are created equal." It says they are endowed by their creator with certain "unalienable rights." Among these rights are "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." However, slaves weren't officially freed until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The Declaration did nothing to improve the lives of slaves.

Did slaves slip their minds?

Nowhere in the Declaration is there anything outlawing the sale of slaves. It must have slipped their minds, even though several of the signers were slave owners and their slaves were probably milling about as the men discussed and signed the document. In other words, the well-being and release of slaves was not what America had in mind when it was declaring freedom on July 4th. Yet every year, African Americans join others in shelling out millions of dollars to participate in a celebration that was never intended for them.

Ouch!In a speech to an antislavery society in 1852, the fugitive slave Frederick Douglass said, "I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. 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 life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn."

We don't count

These are biting words that still ring true today if we as a society are honest with ourselves. When America declared its independence from the stronghold of Britain, it was the ultimate act of bravery and freedom. The country would no longer be oppressed and enslaved to the British ways and could and would stand on her own. That is a powerful statement under any circumstances and one that African Americans have failed to make.

We continue to celebrate a holiday in which an entire race of people and the inhumane conditions they endured were overlooked and ignored. This is not to demean the historical significance of the Constitution, signed in 1787, because it was a great event for white America, but it did little for slaves.

George Washington, the country's first president, was a slave owner who refused to allow slaves in the army during the Revolutionary War until the British started enlisting them. Fifty-six white men, slave owners among them -- including its writer and our third president, Thomas Jefferson -- signed a document on the Fourth of July that gave unlimited freedom to white folks and in essence prolonged government-sanctioned slavery for another 89 years. And to this we eat ribs and potato salad and dance and revel when the biggest winners are merchants? The constant losers have been the African Americans who are unaware of what the holiday really stands for.

If freedom had been achieved, then discrimination in housing, education and voting rights would not be a big issue. If independence had been achieved, then a man would not be shot by the police while reaching for his wallet. If African Americans had the rights that this day should afford, then the jails would not be running over with black males.

Freedom is about more than being able to sit at a nice restaurant. Freedom is about being able to purchase land and build your own restaurant and establish your own rules of service. It's about having something to celebrate on the Fourth of July, because what the history books tell you to celebrate doesn't include your ancestors.

So how could it include you?

William Blackburn

Observer community columnist William Blackburn works for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Write him c/o The Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230-0308, or at

*W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special~The State Of Black America 2008*


April 13, 2008~The State Of Black America Part One

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