“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. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” — Frederick Douglass
What Frederick Douglass said in 1852 about the Black American perspective on the Fourth of July still rings true hundreds of years later in 2021. The Fourth of July has always been widely seen as a symbol of freedom from British rule, promising Americans “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness”. However, as Douglass emphasized, which Americans actually had a taste of said unalienable rights on July 4th, 1776? By now, we know the Founding Fathers were exclusively talking about white males. Meanwhile for Black Americans, the holiday only promised a future filled with even more dehumanizing terror and racism now that this slavery-reliant entity had become a permanent independent country.
It took 89 years for American chattel slavery to be abolished in practice on a day called Junteenth, and it took 245 years for Junteeth to actually be acknowledged as an independence day of sorts by the federal government. That’s right– up until a couple weeks ago, this critical turning point and day of celebration for genuine American freedom had been swept under the rug by those in power until 2021, simply because it seemingly of signifigance for Black Americans only. But, the reality is that Junteenth is equally a win to all other Americans of all races.
The official holiday status of Junteenth is a good start, but there needs to be a mass cultural shift in the way we think about our country’s historical relationship with freedom, specifically celebrating freedom. Junteenth can no longer be exclusively an independence day for minority and Black Americans if we want to move beyond the corruption of past Americans– white Americans need to acknowledge and celebrate as well. None of us are free until we are all free. If Americanness is synonymous with freedom, then why make the Fourth of July, a point in time where Black Americans did not have any at all, our cultural priority? At the very least, why falsify historical truths with blind patriotism and tradition?
If Americanness is synonymous with freedom, then why make the Fourth of July, a point in time where Black Americans did not have any at all, our cultural priority? At the very least, why falsify historical truths with blind patriotism and tradition?
All Americans need to celebrate Junteenth with the same emotional fervor as we have done in the past with the Fourth! Junteenth activist Opal Lee suggests that “We have our festival, our educational components, our music, from June the 19 — Juneteenth — to the 4th of July. Now that would be celebrating freedom.” The holidays teach different lessons, but are complementary to each other. So, it is critical to use both holidays as a chance to educate ourselves about our past from a critical lens, a chance to celebrate the roles Black Americans have played in our history, and as an opportunity to hold America accountable for the many ways minorities in this country still don’t have access to the freedoms that they should. Despite legal independence, the fight for racial equality and freedom for minority and Black Americans is in no way over, but progress starts with learning from and changing harmful traditions.
So, come Fourth of July, have fun with family and friends if you want. Watch the fireworks and barbecue hot dogs. But do this as a citizen with integrity who acknowledges the fatal hypocrisies that lie in celebrating the Fourth of July through rose colored glasses. The Fourth of July can still be a lighthearted tradition if you want it to be, but it is critical to recognize that Junteenth is the only genuine anniversary of America practicing the values of freedom that they preach in the Declaration of Independence, making it our true independence day.