02 July 2015


  This is an article I wrote last July 4th and it deserves in my opinion, re-posting each year.  There are many of us who still have ambivalent feelings about this holiday. The cyclic nature of our citizenship being challenged requires a re-visiting of the past and what got us to this day.  SCOTUS's dismantling of the voting rights act, proliferation of voter suppression, increase in the number of white supremacist groups re-framed with the same dynamics of the past and the continuing struggle of other marginalized groups demand our full attention and activism.  The rights of women are being threatened now and efforts to again devise laws and policy regarding the limitation of their first class citizenship and empowerment have emerged in a rather daunting manner. At the onset of any revolution the cadre is always considered to be renegades and troublemakers, however, they are a necessary component when people rise up against tyranny and oppression.

Most recently, on June 27, 2015, Bree Newsom, a  young black activist scaled the 30ft. pole at the Charleston, S.C. capital and took the confederate flag down to protest the inaction of the governor in removing it. This was in direct response to a white terrorist attack in which 9 church members including a state senator, Rev. Clementa Pinckney were murdered during a prayer meeting, June 17, 2015 at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. She was arrested and posted bail understanding the consequences of her actions. Her accomplice, James Tyson, a white activist was clad in a construction crew outfit which enabled her to climb the pole and remove the flag without an early intervention from authorities. He posted bail as well. The flag, was hoisted up by two black employees almost immediately after the removal. The irony of it all.

 I should also mention that Crispus Attucks, a man of color and escaped slave was one of the first to die in the Revolutionary War.  He was referred to as a 'thug' by John Adams, however, history has proven him to be one of the "true patriots" who began the rebellion against the tyranny of Britain.  I've also acknowledged the struggle of women of color and what many of our heroines did to gain and guarantee the rights of ALL of our citizens!

A passage from Frederick Douglass' speech on people of African descent celebrating the 4th of July.

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 cruelty 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 sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

It is noteworthy that as Mr. Douglass' stature and fortune grew during the late fall and early winter seasons of his life; his tone softened from the above fiery statement.  He was able to carve a reality of freedom and prestige for his family and immediate social circle although there were many suffering during that time as well.  It lends to the adage that it is much harder to sling arrows and admonishments when one's lot improves and there becomes  a lucrative niche in the system for individuals despite the oppressive meme of the masses.

Danny Glover and James Earl Jones are shown here with their unique and different styles of delivery on  Frederick Douglass' 4th Of July Speech .


It is also significant that when Frederick Douglass gave that memorable speech to America on securing full citizenship for people of African descent to have the full rights therein; where did black women stand at that time.  Where did women of all ethnic groups stand at that time.  Certainly not full citizenship afforded to  white males.  Therefore, I think Sojourner Truth's speech rings true for womanhood with her emphasis on the double oppression that women of color had suffered during  that period. Times have gotten better since then for black people and females, however, I hear a whisper and intermittent loud ramblings reminiscent of a  time when women had no control over their bodies or their lot in life. 
                                         "Ain't I A Woman" read by Alice Walker........

The struggle continues for the maintenance of rights won and the vigilance against more creative forms of exclusion. The women of the late 19th century realized that as well as the black female leaders in the 21st who continue to carry on the struggle.

On a final note; Ronda Racha Penrice wrote an article in The Grio as to why Black Americans should celebrate the 4th and a brief passage follows:

"As with every war, including the ones currently being fought, African-Americans have served this nation nobly. So,when it comes to celebrating the Fourth of July, we have just as much right as any other American whose investment in this nation extends back to its very foundation". 

 She is not alone and the debate goes on and I'm sure people of all ethnic groups have their varying opinions on this issue.  Is there a right or wrong as to the significance of July 4th to people of color? Their ancestors were chained and shackled and lived through Jim Crow and continue to deal with de facto as well as various forms of discrimination and bigotry.  Is it about wars we as a people fought in and had to petition for the right to bear arms for freedom?  This in the face of clearly fighting for the cause which excluded them.  Some would say that it's about the principles of a democracy that should be inclusive and it transcends the practices and ideals of those in power who make exceptions.   By the way, the mainstreaming of overt acts of racism and bigotry have become more prominent since Americans voted a man of color as their President in 2008 and again in 2012.   Outward signs of patriotism have grown among blacks in ways I've not witnessed during the 60's, 70's & 80's.  How is that for irony.  I would surmise, however, that it becomes another holiday for many to have family picnics/reunions/fireworks and a good time not really focusing on why we celebrate it nor its significance. 

The other day I viewed Bill Moyers' program featuring the Historical Scholar and Director, Kahlil G. Muhammad of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  They discussed Confronting the Contradictions of America's Past with a reference to his exhaustively researched and analytical book; "The Condemnation of Blackness".  It was informative and engaging and for some of us history buffs; it brought home how much we still don't know about the makings of this country and the depth of systemic racism towards black people post slavery and at the turn of the 20th century. Many European immigrants  who were social misfits during that time were socialized by intensive federal and state interventions to become more palatable and productive citizens at the expense  and omission of black folks of similar circumstances.  The entrenchment of the criminality factor that was supposedly inherent in our DNA fostered laws of repression and control over the decades and is manifested in New York City's  'Stop and Frisk' policy which was formally ruled as unconstitutional by a Manhattan  Federal Court judge 1/2013. The practice continues today. 

 At the closing of the discussion, Mr. Moyers inquired as to how  Dr. Muhammad reconciles celebrating the 4th with all his historical and current knowledge on the subject of gross inequities and continual revisionism of it by the power elite.  His response was interesting and made the concept of  'cultural escapism' more relevant to me.  I've provided links to the program on Bill Moyer's website and  an article/video with more information regarding Dr. Muhammad's background.  Both are worth viewing. 



Ourstorian said...


Thanks for a provocative and comprehensive post on "the haunting duplicity of the 4th of July." I was in Amsterdam (I'm in Paris now) on so-called "Independence Day" where, fortunately, the day passed without notice. Thus I could escape the jingoism and fake patriotism that masks the reality of the "racial state" we call the U.S.

Europe is by no means a racial paradise, nor is it without other problems. In London, I saw how the poor and working classes are being driven out of the city by ruthless developers with the complicity of the government. One right wing politician even stated in the press that they should move elsewhere in the UK. In that sense, I could have been in Harlem or in Washington, D.C. Still, from this side of the pond the U.S. looks like a dismal swamp of hatred, disease, and willful ignorance. I remember being in LA years ago and going up into the Hollywood Hills and looking down to see the entire city shrouded in a thick smog. My first thought was that I had just been down there breathing in that stuff. I feel the same way looking back at the U.S. from distant shores—I was just there in the midst of that madness and corruption that pollutes our souls. Even though these brief weeks are but a momentary escape, I still feel a tremendous sense of relief to be away.

So, for me, Frederick Douglass got it right. His condemnation of the holiday still stands because his condemnation of the United States is just as accurate today as it was in 1852.

Thank you again for the post and the profound insights it provides.

John C. (Ourstorian)

Carolyn Moon said...

@John: I appreciate you stopping by and always your perspective on issues that we face as a people and as part of a global community. Oh I agree with the original condemnation by Mr. Douglas, however, recently, my eldest daughter provided a more expanded version of what Independence Day should mean.It was an epiphany for me and took it to a far more personal and liberating level. She wrote:
"Happy Independence Day, in every sense of that word—freedom from tyranny, from the past, from untenable situations and unreasonable expectations. Freedom to expect outrageous fortune, to receive basic respect and consideration, to shake it up, to scale down, to reinvent...whatever you need to be freed from or freed to do, I wish for each of you!"

We are,indeed,free to liberate ourselves from societal expectations if it doesn't meet our truths!

Safe travels as I'm looking forward to your future posts/commentaries.

mary burrell said...

I earned about the Frederick Douglass speech last year and it is definitely food for thought in regards to the black American and the 4th of July.

Carolyn Moon said...

@Sister Burrell...I appreciate your comment and glad you stopped by. I trust all is well. Take care.

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