Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Meaning of the 4th of July for the African American

Every American, especially African Americans, should know the July 5, 1852 Frederick Dougless speech, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro". From a Cultural Health perspective it is a basic American Cultural Literacy requirement. (Video)

...Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

I grew up in the Queens, of New York City that Eddie Murphy made famous. I could walk out my front door and see Manhattan. Today I have to drive somewhere to see the fireworks like I did yesterday with my youngest son and his girl friend. But back then everyone where I lived just came outside and looked up, over to the city, to see the 4th of July fire works.

Fire works are pretty, romantic and fun for many. What is not to like about America's birth day? As I grew in Cultural Literacy, I finally heard the famous word's of Mr. Dougless and for the first time I said to myself. Self, the 4th of July was not "Independence" Day for all Americans. This was a shock to my system, as this reality for AA was not thought in school. Like most African Americans, I learned over the years to roll with the cultural punches on the Red, White and barbecue day.

After watching the Williams Wimbledon final and playing some tennis on the local courts (with a guy who brought his own personal portable, on wheels, automatic tennis ball machine to practice with) I went to the traditional family barbecue. We talked about current events, New American Health Care, Micheal Jackson, and what do you mean Palin quit?

Yes, the 4th of 2009 is different from the 4th of 1852. An AA President and a guy with his own personal tennis robot underline that reality. I think AA's are prouder of the Nation on this 4th, more so then any in my memory. However, we must not forget the reality and contributions of our ancestors and the Cultural Health work that remains.

You will note I have made a Cultural Health correction to the title of the Speech. Here is a link to the full text of the speech. It is interesting to hear, but more powerful to read personally.

Here is the most famous passage of the 1852 speech and maybe the most famous of all of our ancestor Douglass' speeches.

...What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour...

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