America’s extravagant 4th of July display is a yearly reminder of her bloody rebellion and hard one independence from England. It has been two hundred and forty-one since the first celebration, yet as I type this article on the eve of the fourth, I can still hear, “bombs bursting in air.” Back in 2016, American Pyrotechnic Association (APA) estimated that revenues for display fireworks range from $345-$825 million per year. The festivities have not waned since its inception. On July 3rd, 1776 John Adams penned. ” I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, it ought solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations (fireworks)”
What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?
In the autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he wrote:
“These holidays serve as conductors, or safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity. But for these, the slave would be forced up to the wildest desperation; and woe betide the slaveholder, the day he ventures to remove or hinder the operation of those conductors!”
Douglas continues, “The holidays are part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery. They are professedly accustom established by the benevolence of the slaveholders; but I undertake to say, it is the result of selfishness, and one of the grossest frauds committed upon the down-trodden slave. They do not give the slaves this time because they would not like to have their work during its continuance, but because they know it would be unsafe to deprive them of it.”
Land of the free home of the slave!
In a July 5th, 1852 speech about the relationship of the slave to Independence day Douglass retorts:
“I would to-day pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”
What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?
At the time of this speech, Douglas had escaped from slavery some fourteen years earlier. His response was notably different from his fellow enslaved ‘Africans’ who were still under the crushing hand of forced servitude. For the enslaved, they tell an entirely different story about what the fourth means to them. According to the Life of James Watkins in his narrative Struggles for Freedom,
“on the great 4th of July, we slaves, who have not sense to know anything, always expected a treat, and we often got wheaten bread, fresh meat, apple dumplings, apple pie, apple jack, and haigh-nog, and when any of our owners died we had generally something similar.”
It was customary in the Ante-bellum South for many slave masters to become “lax” during the holiday seasons. Countless reports show that slaves had more freedom to move around during these celebrations. Many took these occasions to drink, dance and make merry.
In his autobiography, Thirty Years a Slave from Bondage to Freedom Louis Hughes gives an in-depth view of the institution of slavery. Amongst his detailed findings he recounts what the fourth was to the slaves on his master’s plantation:
“FOURTHOF JULY BARBECUE : Barbecue originally meant to dress and roast a hog whole, but has come to mean the cooking of a food animal in this manner for the feeding of a great company. A feast of this kind was always given to us, by Boss, on the 4th of July. The anticipation of it acted as a stimulant through the entire year. Each one looked forward to this great day of recreation with pleasure. Even the older slaves would join in the discussion of the coming event. It mattered not what trouble or hardship the year had brought, this feast and its attendant pleasure would dissipate all gloom. Some, probably, would be punished on the morning of the 4th, but this did not matter; the men thought of the good things in store for them, and that made them forget that they had been punished. All the week previous to the great day, the slaves were in high spirits, the young girls and boys, each evening, congregating, in front of the cabins, to talk of the feast, while others would sing and dance.”
Hughes echoes Douglas’s sentiment that the fourth and holidays like it were something that the enslaved population looked forward to. They lived such deprived inhumane lives that moments like this restored some similitude of humanity.
“Old and young, for months, would rejoice in the memory of the day and its festivities, and “bless” Boss for this ray of sunlight in their darkened lives.”
Today, some one hundred and fifty-two years after slavery was abolished, many ‘blacks’ in America are still hesitant to rid themselves of these government sanctioned celebrations. The dichotomy of celebrating the independence of your ancestral oppressors continues to boggle the mind.
What is the fourth of July to the sons and daughters of those you enslaved?
If one ventured to ask a one thousand American ‘black’ people today about the fourth, you are likely to receive a myriad of visceral responses. Black Knowledge posted this meme on social media this afternoon, so far in four hours it has garnered 1.6k responses and 613 shares. I invite you to read through some of their thoughts opinions and comments, hopefully using them to draw your own conclusions.
What to the slave is the fourth of July?
Emunah Y’srael is an expert in DIY Soul Improvement with over 20 years actively dedicated to her own soul journey. She is the creator of the a myriad of self-improvement projects. Emunah has authored to date four books, all available on amazon.
For question or comments on the contents of this article feel free to reach out: @emunah_ysrael or firstname.lastname@example.org