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What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? 

This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, you may rejoice, I must mourn.

 (Frederick Douglass; July 5, 1852)



Enough! Enough! We want no more

Of ye immigrant from a foreign shore

Already is our land o'er run

With toiler, beggar, thief and scum

(Prescott Hall, 1894)



Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

(Emma Lazarus, 1883)


               Holidays are created to remind us of things such as the core values, customs, beliefs, events, and key people that bind us as families, societies, and nations.  However, a considerable amount of deeper meanings is lost when a holiday such as [1] Martin Luther King Jr. Day is reduced to a day off from work at which time one sleeps-in, shops, and/or goes to a movie; [2] Kwanza and Christmas are rendered times primarily for extravagant gift giving; and [3] the Fourth of July is viewed as nothing more than fireworks, barbecuing, drinking, flag waving and, little if any regard is given to the substantive importance of the Declaration of Independence.  Even more is lost on July 4th when our attention is deflected from the deplorable fact that, to this day, the “land of the free” is also the “land of systemic injustice.”

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. reminded our country that, for African Americans, the constitutionally promised freedoms were essentially a number of “bounced checks.”  In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he stated, “Five score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. 

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So, we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition…” (Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963).

Tragically, more than a half century since King Jr. spoke, African Americans still are not free.   Through things such as unwarranted police shootings, gang violence, homicides, attacks on voting rights, working as hard if not harder than Whites and being paid less, and failing schools, African Americans receive daily reminders that it was for White men only that Congress passed the 1789 Bill of Rights guaranteeing things such as freedom of speech and the press; the right of the people peaceably to assemble; the right to bear arms; and the right to a speedy trial. 

Today, White male privilege remains so ingrained that the Democrats’ leading Presidential candidate pretends that he does not know the deep racist significance of his use of the term “boy” in reference to African American males!   Arrogantly refusing to apologize for his insulting remarks, he seems to believe that African Americans are caught up in what the Temptations referenced as a “ball of confusion,” i.e., a situation in which African Americans are so disoriented that they can be dazzled by the latest carpetbagging politician exclaiming “Vote for me and I'll set you free…” 

Lest we forget, White men so suppressed the right to vote that it was centuries later, June 4, 1919 to be exact, before Congress passed the 19th Amendment providing women with the right to vote.  In my opinion, it was most unfortunate that, in 2016, so many White women used their vote to elect a President who is a habitual liar; someone for whom psychologists have wondered about his sanity; and, around the world, national leaders view his political antics as bizarre when he, for example, joked with Putin about meddling in American elections. 

Now, 167 years after Frederick Douglass stated, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, you may rejoice, I must mourn," there remains so much about which to mourn.  Whether it is heart disease in particular or health care in general; educational or economic disparities; police brutality or prison sentencing; affordable housing or annual salaries; or any other quality of life factor, there are dramatic disparities between Whites and African Americans.  Regarding the wealth and related salary gap in particular, things are annually becoming worse for African Americans.  Simultaneously, African Americans are being killed in America at rates greater than when they participated in America’s wars. 

Lest we forget, it is not just African Americans who still are not free in America.  Note, for example, the following “Bill of Wrongs.”

  •         Reproductive justice not only continues to be denied, but is currently experiencing a sustained attack.
  •         In many states, employees can be fired for being LGBTQ.
  •         Coming to America means fathers, mothers and children might be separated, detained in deplorable conditions, or, still worse, die along the way.  Today’s treatment of immigrants reminds us that so-called “father figures” such as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and other White men of distinction over time deemed the Chinese, Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles, Slovaks and others to be “undesirables.”
  •         The poor languish in jail while the wealthy are released given the cash bail system.
  •         Increasingly, seniors fear that they cannot afford to live decently in retirement.
  •         The FBI reported a soaring increase of hate crimes over a recent 3-year period.
  •         People are not free to worship in temples, churches and synagogues for fear of hate crimes.
  • In sum, as of July 4, 2019, systemic racism is alive and well, along with homophobia, White male privilege, xenophobia, patriarchy, and “capitalism gone wild.”  Thus, the “American dream” is increasingly a “dream deferred” for masses of Americans.

If African Americans are to ever have good reasons to celebrate their freedom on July 4th, it will be when America grants them their long overdue reparations.  Reparations as used herein is not a matter of simplistic things such as “a chicken in every pot,” “40 acres and a mule,” or some adjudicated stipend for the descendants of American slaves.  Rather, reparations refer to taking the steps required to end systemic racism in America; to address the quality of life disparities; and to remove the structural barriers to freedom, justice and equality for African Americans.  Until that time, then “facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won!”


Jack L. Daniel

Co-founder, Freed Panther Society

Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor

Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black


July 2, 2019


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