Smithsonian African American History and Research Museum, Washington, DC. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARVARD.EDU
I did not celebrate the Fourth of July.
Actually, after celebrating Juneteenth – the new national holiday day that marks the ofﬁcial end of slavery throughout the United States – July 4th feels like an afterthought.
“Our” Independence Day is far more embraceable than the longstanding celebration of America’s independence from British taxation and tyranny.
Just what are we celebrating on the Fourth? Oh yes, we are celebrating freedom from foreign rule, freedom to bear arms, own property, and vote, even if it took hundreds of years to parse out this freedom to African American men, then women.
We are also celebrating having a three-day weekend, sales, capped with spectacular ﬁrework displays.
Since Black folk still have not been fully incorporated into the fabric of the flag, so tightly woven in threads of speech and the declaration of liberty and justice for all, why are Black folks celebrating after so many freedoms and rights gained since our independence have been eroded, reversed, denied, or threatened with violence when exercised?
There are movements to protect voting rights. There are movements to ensure that Black women have equal and just access to medical care, especially during pregnancy and childbirth. There are movements to keep urban public schools adequately funded and staffed. There are movements to hold the Black body in high regard (Black Lives Matter).
The Supreme Court just gutted the afﬁrmative action in which colleges and universities used race as an admissions criterion, overturning longstanding precedent that beneﬁted Black and Latino student applicants. First there was Roe. What’s next?
Consider: Was there any reason to celebrate the fourth in Mississippi?
In a recently published news story, an incident in January involved White police ofﬁcers in Rankin County (near Jackson), who kidnapped and brutalized two Black men.
One of the men had a gun placed in his mouth, then was shot, rendering him permanently disﬁgured and disabled. The ofﬁcers have been ﬁred for their attempts at murder, sexual assault and other despicable acts.
The Black men are suing for $400 million. The lawsuit alleges that this was “one of the worst and most bizarre incidents of police misconduct in US history.”
What will be the Black men’s victory? For sure, winning their lawsuit. But what about their freedom to just be? The freedom to breathe, unmolested. The freedom to move around in their black skin without fear of brutality, or death, at the hands of heathens.
A new freedom to sue has come at a high price: ﬁling and winning civil suits, but after suffering severe injury or loss of life.
Mississippi is not an exception.
The Minneapolis Police Department, the Memphis Police Department and others have been cited for violating laws and practices and failing to uphold their duty of protect and serve. Black men too often have been the targets.
But this is America, where Black folk still are not free to exercise all the freedoms promised in the papers written during the formation of this country. It is often cited that we were left out of the Constitution except in reference to the three/ﬁfths clause which gave enslavers a voting advantage.
To our own credit, and with temerity, museums are opening which herald, hallmark and house our achievements and vital contributions to building this nation.
Many are joining the Smithsonian African American History and Research Museum in Washington, DC, and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (the lynching memorial) in Montgomery, Ala. A new International African American Museum opened in Charleston, SC, in June. It is a paean to overcoming the legacy of slavery with displays of how Black folk survived despite that evil institution.
Lest we forget, we need more and more of these monuments and movements dedicated to the power of Black existence, Black resistance, and Black survival.
And for that, I will celebrate.
Before the next Fourth of July, I urge you to take time to consider what the Declaration of independence means to you. Examine the laws where you live. Reflect on how you are treated in this country. Determine what is missing for you to fully express all your rights as a citizen. Understand the differences between your real and perceived freedoms, etc.
And, I implore you to continue to VOTE, Vote, vote.