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What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? A Contemporary Analysis

REPRINTED from 2020 -by Jada Roberts, Dahlia Ferrol, and Sabina Ferrol

“Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.”

Words from Frederick Douglass’ speech are applicable to people of color in the U.S. in 2020 because although slavery officially “ended” in 1865, people of color still experience the effects of slavery today.

On July 4th, 1776, as America celebrated their Independence Day with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which claims that all men are created equal with inviolable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Negros were unable to participate in this celebration with the rest of the nation being that they have never been treated as equals. These proclaimed rights did not adhere to Negros because of the fact that slavery was still present and existed in the first place. Fredrick Douglass, one of the most popular abolitionists and social reformers at this time, spoke out against this matter in his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

These words from Mr. Douglass’ speech, “ The rich inheritance of justice, liberty prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me”. These statements resonate with me, even in modern times, being that what is beneficial to the white man is not beneficial to the Negro. For example, police officers are paid to protect and serve all people, however, to the Negro they inflict death and pain.

Let’s expose the reality of living in America, the proclaimed “ land of the free and the home of the brave”, shall we? One idolized holiday celebrated to the masses where colorful fireworks burst high in the sky, families gather rejoicing one of the greatest ‘uplifting’ days in U.S. history is The Fourth of July. A national holiday known as one of the biggest celebrated remembrances in America centered around the commemoration of the Declaration of Independence. A written document named after highlighting the independence for all men. However not all men were considered treated fairly as their fellow neighbors.

This exposes flaws within the backbone structure of America. First, the authors of this document were the well-known Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. Clearly, the primary denominator is that all were powerful white men. A document featuring the famous lines: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” and have “certain unalienable rights” – among them “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This declaration was constructed on empty promises and sweet nothings purposely written to fill a void. People of color were still feared, murdered, segregated, harassed, abused, and experienced traumatizing life experiences. The Declaration of Independence was written in June 1776, however slavery wasn’t abolished until 1865. Most notably, it was the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) which attentively ended slavery physically but emotionally. The shackles of injustice lived on within the mindset of African slaves and passed from generations to generations. People of color weren’t considered “free” in the past nor are they today. The heavy chains are un-cuffed from our wrists nevertheless it still suffocates people of colors’ existence.

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass addressed the unspoken truth of American naive blindness to believe that there were equal society values, such as liberty, citizenship, and freedom. This public announcement revealed offensive disregard toward the enslaved population of the United States due to lack of freedom, liberty, and citizenship. Unfortunately, despite this declaration being hundreds of years old the same injustice is present in the 21st century. Insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Injustice caused by the white population to the colored population is an ongoing repetitive act. You find that it’s different people, different acts of violences, however all are rooted from the same belief.

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them…” – “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?“ selection -Frederick Douglass

In his “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”, Frederick Douglass stated, “Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

Here, this section designated to correlate Douglass’s speech into current day terms to show the shocking resemblance between the past and the future. Many families commemorate annually the Fourth of July while others have to acknowledge their loved absence due to police brutality. Families and friends may host a barbecue or boat ride on the open seas while others host a wake for their passed loved ones. As the burst fireworks exploded into the night sky, people of color are hosting candlelight vigils in honor of murdered victims from police brutality. Instead of families looking to the sky in admiration over the beautiful sky are weighed down by emotional stress from looking at a cemetery.

Racism runs deep. There is a fear of the dark; dark complexion. We are not all created equal. It is all a facade filled with pretty wording to hide the reality of who truly created that law.

In 1776, white men decided their beliefs were superior to all lives, and in the 21st century, police believe their intentions are justifiable. The pen and quill stroked unreliable ‘nothings’ by powerful white supremacists on the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

There were no African American representatives, no Native Americans “savages” representatives, no Chinese representatives, or no Hispanics representatives when creating an act for all equal parties. People of color are attacked for the shade of their complexion in which they would always be considered armed and dangerous.

The color black has always been considered a ‘feared’ color. Police brutality has perceived that the people of color are violent even unarmed. Police brutality varies with actions of withdrawn guns, body slamming our bodies, and firing nameless bullets at the innocent. Racism runs deep. There is a fear of the dark; dark complexion. We are not all created equal. It is all a facade filled with pretty wording to hide the reality of who truly created that law. This persona allows people of color to actively voice their Fourteenth Amendment which grants the rights of American citizenship. It expresses people of color in countless protests, marches, and non-violence demonstrations demanding true equality.

The words from his speech resonate with a vast majority of racial issues that have been occurring today. Now more than ever it is important to bring awareness to these matters and let America know that


Across the United States and globally, protestors have been wearing black to show unity and shouting “Black Lives Matter!” BLM is an international human rights movement that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people.

Many Americans are united together to commemorate the lives taken with the Black Lives Matter movement’s progress by publicizing the “Say His Name”, “Say Her Name”, and “Say Their Name” campaign. The worst action committed by a person is to possess complete ignorance and negligence. Similar to, families and black activists holding the police accountable for their actions. The police feel entitled by the badge on their chest that makes them somewhat more superior to a civilian. Some forget the phrase “to serve and protect all” which refers to all citizens not the cops. It is scandalous to be threatened by someone’s color of skin than an actual weapon. Police are armed with guns instead of whips. The chants of “Black Lives Matter” echoes just like the slave carols sung during hardship times throughout the nation.

It’s the same story just different names all centered around people of color who are said to be free, however who are weighed down by the gravity of a white man’s knee. If people of color don’t take a stance and voice their concerns, you find that accountability would never be given. The police and justice system is in disarray. Abolitionism has become replaced with large protests in different countries taking a knee on U.S. soil. Justice and equality won’t apply to people of color unless every race is valued for their humanity rather than their pigment rate.

Unlike unnamed slaves, we can remember and honor the fallen who were taken too soon:

George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbrey, Philando Castille, Matice Green, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, Freddie Gray, Antwon Rose Jr., Ezell Ford, Emmett Till, Freddie Gray, Michelle Cuusseaux, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Janisha Fonville, Akai Gurley, Gabriella Nevarez, Tanisha Anderson...

Unlike unnamed slaves, we can remember and honor the fallen who were taken too soon: George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbrey, Philando Castille, Matice Green, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, Freddie Gray, Antwon Rose Jr., Ezell Ford, Emmett Till, Freddie Gray, Michelle Cuusseaux, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Janisha Fonville, Akai Gurley, Gabriella Nevarez, Tanisha Anderson…

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Janelle Casey says:

    Independence day is a beloved holiday for families in America today, and has celebration been since 1776. The celebration however is controversial, because of the maltreatment and oppression of the black people. They were still slaves, and this was not independence for everyone. Frederick Douglas spoke to this, saying “ The rich inheritance of justice, liberty prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me”. The truth is that the entry to the declaration of independence from Great Brittan was simply written as a pacifier for the people, a veneer of morals and righteousness. The never did intend to give us a chance at a pursuit of happiness, or treat us equally. The Dangers of racism have never left America, and the crimes against African Americans are proof that for every step forward we make, there ten steps made back. For all that has changed in our favor, twice as much has gotten worse. What I learned in school was that Police men and women were protectors of kids like me, that I could count on them to help. It’s been a long time since 2007 and a lot has happened. Two police killings in just this year, were that of Amir Locke on February 2, and Patrick Lyoya on April 4. Amir was shot during no-knock investigation, Patrick, an African refugee was chased down and shot in the back of the head. America may no longer belong to England, but people like politicians and officers constantly show us that we still belong the fear of being black in America.

  2. Kadejsha T. says:

    I agree with everything this article has to say. If the constitution was made to also support minorities none of the things that were mentioned would have occurred. The truth is that constitution was not made for minorities it was made for the comfort of the white people. The constitution was made by white men; this only contributes to that belief. If the constitution was made for all then why was everyone not included in its making? It is a very good question that has yet to be answered.

  3. Sonaai Oscar says:

    The article talks about racism. Families celebrate July 4th as a happy day, but some blacks think about their lost ones. Frederik Douglas gave a speech that addressed inequality. He connected the past and the present by referring to the blacks as descendants. He asked what is July 4th to an enslaved person by basically calling himself and the people of his present time enslaved. Slavery is over, but we still experience inequality. After all, the white man believes they are superior. In the past, the problem was slavery, but today the situation is police brutality, and this generation is coming together and holding the police accountable. A protest started after George Floyd’s death because the police killed him due to racism. People used social media to help spread the word, and everyone chanted “black lives matter which is still a common phrase used today.

  4. Jackline j. James says:

    This article was well presented and a great effort was made by the writer to include the level of racism and injustice that people of color still face in the 21st century. It is difficult to understand how Americans celebrate the 4th of July as independence day when the system has done very little to change the way people of color are treated in the land. If we are in the land of the free and home of the brave this freedom is only celebrated by the whites because during this holiday season the people of color use this time to mourn the loss of their loved ones who lost their lives at the hands of the white and particularly by the police who are expected to protect and serve them and not only the whites. The whites who formulated these laws and amended the constitution to observe this day as a holiday had no inkling of how the blacks felt at that time and not much consideration or emphasis was placed on the colored when these amendments were being implemented. It is said that the people of color can’t be seen as equal and enjoy the same liberty and freedom that the whites enjoy.

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