It is July 4th and most Americans celebrate the day as a day of Independence from Great Britain. Do you mind a history lesson?
In Thomas Jeferson's beautiful writing of the Declaration of Independence, the original draft included what has come to be known as the "anti-slavery clause." It read as follows:
"He [King George III] has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most Sacred Right of Life & Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their Transportation thither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the CHRISTIAN [all caps and underlined in the original draft] King of Great Britain. He has prostituted his Negative for Suppressing every legislative Attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable Commerce, determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, and that this Assemblage of Horrors might want no Fact of distinguished Die, he is now exciting those very People to rise in Arms among us, and to purchase that Liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former Crimes committed against the Liberties of one People, with Crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."
I wonder if this was Jefferson at all. It seems much more like John Adams' style and conviction to me. For, in the declaration debate, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina threatened that South Carolina, joined by North Carolina and Georgia, would fight on King George’s side unless “the offending passage be removed.” John Adams warned that, if the passage were removed, then we would fight another war within a few generations over that very issue of slavery.
Jefferson caved in. The passage was stricken from the text. For over half a million of our brothers and sisters, “Independence Day” was a cruel joke. It was not a day of liberation but a day when slavery and bigotry were entrenched in the laws and minds of a new nation.
No wonder I can’t find any good jazz tunes that celebrate July 4th. For the great African-American jazz artists and all of our African-American brothers and sisters, there is nothing to be joyful about.
The realization that must dawn on "white" America that American History IS Black History. The first permanent colony in North America was the Jamestown colony in Virginia which was settled in 1607. The first African slaves arrived there in 1619. Only 12 years after the settlement... and... one year BEFORE the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.
The African slaves arrived before your ancestors did.
You can now go back to your hot dogs and beer…
I was not expecting what followed. Within seconds I began receiving messages and comments from old classmates, former students, and dear friends.
One former student, Kevin, simply wrote “Drop the mic.”
Another, nicknamed Trey, replied with “I am, and always will be, proud to be a White Christian American although I'm often pre-judged as such. Happy ID!!!!”
My answer to him was “Nobody is suggesting that you should NOT be proud to be who you are. As my friends say, ‘Pro-Black does not mean anti-white.’ Isn't it possible to be pro-everyone? I'd like to think that I am.”
My friend Vincent quoted Theodore Roosevelt with, “Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.” Then he followed with a poster reading, “July 4, 1776. While ‘Americans’ were celebrating their independence, Black people were still being beaten, raped, and tortured. While the ‘bombs burst in air’, Africans would still be enslaved for almost 100 more years.”
My old grad school pal, Dr. Gerard O’Sullivan, answered, “Well said. Let's remember to give a shout out to the Quakers. They were excluding slaveholders from membership as early as 1751.”
Then my former student, Cindy Nelson, said this: “I've often wished that Frederick Douglass were required reading every July 4th, right before the anthem and the Pledge, before the music and the food and the fireworks.
'I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.’”
More comments followed but Cindy (and Frederick Douglass) get the last word.