I am so grateful to live in America, but I want to live in an America that is fully awake to the experience of our neighbors.
People all over the country are celebrating the July 4th holiday. On this date in 1776, 13 American colonies declared independence from England. However, did you know that many people of color in our country do not celebrate July 4th? Instead, many prefer to celebrate on June 19th each year – known as Juneteenth. This was the date – 91 years later on June 19, 1865 – that the final slaves were set free in Galveston, TX.
To understand American history, we have to open our eyes and understand that history is complicated.
We are a nation built on ideals that were created by man. I think we can all agree that not
every person in our nation’s history has the best intentions for all of our neighbors.
I’m not against people celebrating July 4th, but I do want people to understand why not everyone is celebrating today.
76 years after America’s independence was declared, an escaped slave who became an influential author, activist, and public speaker – Frederick Douglass – delivered a speech describing the freedom that many experienced was not shared by people of color. July 5, 1852, he said, “The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This fourth of July is yours, not mine.” Slavery would not be abolished (for everyone except those convicted of a crime) until December 6, 1865.
Instead of following your first reaction – which could include defensiveness, exasperation, or anger – could you pause for a moment and try to enter into the pain and lament of a person living as a slave in a country that is celebrating freedom? Think of the way that you would feel if everyone was celebrating something that was within sight but out of reach of your grasp. If you can allow yourself to go there in your imagination, you’ll have a glimpse into the motivation and meaning of this speech.
Freedom is meant to be free for everyone. Let’s remember that as we are celebrating our freedom today.
Here’s a powerful video that includes the descendants of Frederick Douglass reciting his speech – “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”