Independence Day, in terms of true liberation and true freedom, didn’t happen for Black folks in America on July 4th, 1776. And it didn’t happen with Juneteenth on June 19, 1865, either.
In fact, it has never happened for us in this country.
But it did happen for white Americans 247 years ago on July 4. And their joy was our pain. Their ecstasy was our misery. Their heaven was our hell. And it still is.
That is precisely why we should not celebrate the birth of American white supremacy. In fact, there are at least ten reasons why we should never celebrate July 4th. Let me count the ways:
1. America hated us even before July 4th, 1776. In fact, America started hating us when it began enslaving us in Virginia on Aug. 25, 1619. And it still hates us.
In fact, just five days before July 4 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 in the SFFA v. Harvard and University of North Carolina case gutted affirmative action for Black folks in higher education along the lines of “slave” holders banning literacy for Black folks in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s and along the lines of Jim Crow politicians restricting education for Black students from the 1900s through the 1960s (and beyond).
That’s why the honorable U.S Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in dissent in that case wrote, “Gulf-sized race-based gaps … were created in the distant past, but have indisputably been passed down to the present day through the generations.”
Black folks should not celebrate the independence of the very same country that still has those “gulf-sized race-based gaps” and, more important, that still hates us.
2. On July 4, 1776, when the edited version of the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, 41 of the 56 signers of that historic document – as confirmed by Chuck Huggins, former Communications Specialist at U.S. Army Military Intelligence – enslaved Black folks.
3. One of those 56 white men, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, namely Thomas Jefferson, enslaved 175 Black men, women, and children in 1776 and increased that number to 267 by 1822.
4. When that historic document was adopted in 1776, slavery was legal in all 13 colonies, which means 20% of the population was enslaved. And slavery wasn’t just a Southern sin. During the time of the Declaration of Independence, slavery also existed in the North with approximately 40,000 Blacks held in brutal bondage in this region as documented by James M. Velo, a researcher at the Encyclopedia of History. And census records from 1780 show 6,855 of those 40,000 were in Pennsylvania with 539 in Philadelphia.
5. Despite the claim in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal,” there were more than 500,000 enslaved Black persons in the 13 colonies from 1776-1800.
6. After the Continental Congress declared independence and then declared war, General George Washington initially banned Black men from joining the military. But when he began losing more and more battles, he relented, after which over 5,000 Black men volunteered and helped lead the colonists to a 1783 victory over Britain. But despite volunteering and helping to lead America to victory, many of the survivors among those 5,000 Black men were re-enslaved after the war. WTF?!
7. By the way, speaking of General Washington, he also enslaved 316 Black folks at his Mt. Vernon, Virginia, plantation and illegally enslaved nine of them right here in Philadelphia at Sixth and Market Streets where America’s first “White House” was located. Oh, and by the way, on July 2, 1766, he traded a Black man named Tom for a keg of molasses and rum. Think about that when you think about that white General who led this white country to victory after declaring white independence on July 4th.
8. As a direct result of the July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence and the 1775-1783 Revolutionary War, a new government was established via the 1788 U.S. Constitution. And because the racist apple doesn’t fall far from the racist tree, the Constitution itself was a racist document (and in part continues to be) as shown in the Three-Fifths Clause (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3), the Electoral College Clause (Article II, Section 1, Clause 2), the Continued Importation of Africans into Slavery Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1), and the Free States to Return Escapees to “Slave” States Clause (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3).
9. In connection with the 1788 U.S. Constitution, which ultimately resulted from the 1776 Declaration of Independence, the position of president was officially created. And 12 of this country’s presidents enslaved anywhere from 1-316 Black human beings: Martin Van Buren 1, Ulysses S. Grant 5, Andrew Johnson 8, William Henry Harrison 11, James K. Polk 25, John Tyler 70, James Monroe 75, James Madison approximately 100-125, Zachary Taylor approximately 150, Andrew Jackson approximately 150-200, Thomas Jefferson 267 and George Washington 316.
10. Following the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Revolutionary War victory in 1783, some of America’s greatest facilities/symbols were built- but not by free white men.
Instead, they were built by enslaved Black men. They include (among others) the White House in 1792 and the U.S. Capitol in 1793. And prior to free white men declaring their independence in 1776, enslaved Black men built George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Virginia, Estate/Plantation in 1758 and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia, Estate/Plantation in 1772.
Therefore, don’t celebrate white independence on July 4th. Instead, promote Black liberation by doing this: “Never forget. Always avenge.”
This commentary first appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.