Many Americans have just concluded “celebrating” a protracted July 4th, Independence Day holiday. It is a time for vacating, picnicking, family cook-outs, parades, fireworks and lots of flag-waving during perhaps the most “patriotic” season of the year. As an African in America, when I think about the Fourth of July it conjures up the memory and spirit of Frederick Douglass’ iconic oration at a gathering in Rochester, New York in 1852. Douglass was a true believer in the prospects of America but knew full well that this promise could not be fulfilled unless and until the hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as it pertained to enslaved Africans was resolved. Therefore, the Fourth of July was irrelevant to Africans in America. Referring to enslaved Africans in his oration Douglass proclaimed:
“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.”
Unless and until Africans in America and other oppressed people have achieved full freedom, dignity and equality, there should always be a parallel Frederick Douglass Day Commemoration during the Fourth of July holiday. For example, the spirit of Douglass would challenge us to proclaim, what does your Fourth of July mean to immigrants entering this country seeking refuge from violence whose children are being taken from them by agents of the U.S. Government? What does it mean when vicious assaults by Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites on peaceful demonstrators is condoned because there are currently white nationalists who are Advisors to the “Orange Man?” What does it mean when young Black men and women continue to be executed by the police with impunity and athletes who kneel during the National Anthem to protest the slaughter are viciously attacked by the present “Resident” of the White House? What does it mean when voter suppression is rampant and the rights of women, LGBTQ, workers and the poor are under assault in the name of “making America Great Again?”
Under these circumstances, the words of Douglass still ring true:
“Your shouts of liberty and equality (are) hollow mockery; Your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are… mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
Unless and until Africans in America and other oppressed people have been liberated from these “intolerable acts” by vile personages and exploitative institutions and systems, the “Fourth of July” should actually be Frederick Douglass Day; a day dedicated to reflecting on the true meaning of political and economic democracy and “liberty and justice for all;” a day dedicated to eradicating tyranny and tyrants; a day when the progressive forces of resistance and transformation heed the admonition of Douglass:
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Frederick Douglass Day should be an annual time for reflection, resistance and transformation!