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WHAT IS JULY 5TH TO THE BLACK AMERICAN?

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HOW JULY 5TH IN THE PAST CAN REFLECT TO AMERICA TODAY

Everyone is provided with an opportunity to learn something new every day. Whether it’s to catch up with what’s happening or unveil hidden things from the past. In 1776, on July 4th, the fourth of July became the celebration of independence for America. With recent events circling around the Black Community, today that community has created Juneteenth (June 19th) as their new Independence Day. African Americans in the past, however, celebrated their freedom on July 5th. 

On July 5, 1827, 4,000 Blacks from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia marched down the streets to the African Zion Church to celebrate slavery’s end in New York. At the march, the abolitionist leader William Hamilton declared, “This day we stand redeemed from a bitter thralldom.” According to the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, in the 1830s at the African Baptist Church in Albany, celebrants gathered to hear pastor Nathaniel Paul denounce “the ponderous load of misery” heaped on his people. A black national convention in 1834 formally voted against holding any celebration on July 4th. 

A popular speech by Fredrick Douglass now titled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, the National Museum of African American History and Culture describes how “[h]is speech was delivered at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York. It was a scathing speech in which Douglass stated, ‘This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, You may rejoice, I must mourn.’” 

His speech is not only powerful but also relevant to the tragedies that have happened to Black Americans today. He stated, 

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 sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, 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.”

This speech was delivered on July 5, 1852 – 168 years ago – yet the message still can be applied to the tragedies of inequality, racism, loss of life, and more that we face today. Blacks will never feel safe in a nation that was built for the rich white man without being able to think and feel as if they are a walking and living target. Many points that Douglass made in his speech should be revisited as they reflect exactly on what many Blacks still face; included in his speech are how Blacks will (and should) continue to overcome the hatred and injustice they face by uniting as one.

Douglas concluded his speech:

“Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together” 

Today’s new and rising generations won’t let the trauma of the past repeat itself. Blacks and their allies are continuing to share the importance of educating and encouraging one another, fighting, spreading awareness, celebrating, supporting, and all that they can do to show this battle is far from over. Although Blacks no longer celebrate July 5th as their day of independence, it’s hard to believe that Blacks ever had their freedom, given current events. Recent killings of many Black men, women, transgenders, and sadly others not only implements fear but also no sense of belonging in a country that states it’s “the land of the free.” Even if the day is no longer celebrated, the history of July 5th should be known and continued to be shared.