July Fourth and Juneteenth: An Examination of Freedom and Duality in Black America
There’s a unique duality to being a Black American, particularly when the Fourth of July rolls around. On this day, as the rest of the country celebrates the birth of the nation with grand displays of fireworks and barbecues, many Black Americans find themselves balancing a complex interplay of emotions.
This day, celebrated as America’s Independence Day, is a vivid reminder of the lofty ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality on which this nation was built. And yet, for Black Americans, it also serves as a stark reminder of a time when these very ideals were denied to us.
It’s impossible to ignore the irony that in 1776, while white colonists were celebrating their liberation from British rule, our ancestors were still in chains, living under the crushing weight of slavery. Freedom, as it turns out, was not a universal concept; it was and continues to be, selectively applied.
This isn’t to say that we, as Black Americans, don’t participate in July Fourth festivities. Many of us do and with good reason. As Black Americans, we are just as much a part of the fabric of this nation as anyone else. We have fought in every war, contributed to every major industry, shaped cultural and societal norms, and continuously pushed the country toward progress. Our lineage has been one of perseverance, innovation, and resilience. Our celebration is not one of hypocrisy, but of complexity, a testament to the multifaceted nature of our identity.
However, this complexity does not erase the bitter truth: despite our integral role in America’s history and development, in many ways, we continue to be treated as second-class citizens. From education to housing, healthcare to criminal justice, systemic racism persists, quietly shaping our lives and opportunities. The societal structures that often work smoothly for others are more likely to present us with obstacles. The same country that we’ve given so much to still struggles to recognize and value our humanity fully.
In this context, Juneteenth gains significant relevance. Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, is a holiday we deeply resonate with. Celebrated on the 19th of June, it marks the day in 1865 when the enslaved people of Texas finally received the news of their freedom – two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth is a potent symbol of real freedom for us – a delayed, hard-fought freedom that came not in 1776, but in the brutal years of the Civil War and its aftermath. It’s a day to honor our ancestors, celebrate Black culture and resilience, and remember that the fight for true and complete freedom is ongoing. Juneteenth reminds us that liberty, delayed or otherwise, is worth celebrating and worth fighting for.
As people across this country commemorate the Fourth of July and Juneteenth each year, we are reminded of our unique place within the American narrative. We are both celebrants of the American ideal and critical voices reminding the country of its unfulfilled promises. We acknowledge our intertwined histories but also remember that our past is still alive within our present.
This Fourth of July, as the fireworks lit up the sky, many of us may have watched in awe. However, though the fireworks may shine brightly, that the lights of freedom, equality, and justice have remained dim. The Fourth of July and Juneteenth serve as an annual reminder of the work that remains to be done. But we face it with an unwavering belief in our right to freedom and a steadfast commitment to ensuring that America lives up to its promise. For it’s only when every citizen is free that we can truly celebrate independence.
Here are some thoughts from my good brother, Demetrius Frazier of Resist Booksellers about this holiday.
Here are some books you can read about Black Americans who have proudly served this nation. They are linked to Bookshop.org where all purchases help independent bookstores. Half American is linked to Resist Booksellers, a new Black-owned bookstore in Petersburg, Virginia. In a few instances where they are not available at Bookshop.org, they are linked to Amazon.
Audra Russell is a blogger, freelance writer, and published author. She holds two undergraduate degrees in journalism as well as a Master of Science degree in Education. She also completed the Wesleyan University online Creative Writing Specialization course series.
She is an avid reader and writer’s advocate. Her passion for promoting the works of up-and-coming authors inspired her to create her podcast, Between the Reads, as well as her website, Read It Black to Me. Her debut novel, BLOOD LAND, was published on August 29, 2020, as her fiftieth birthday gift to herself. She lives in Maryland with her husband of more than 20 years, her 3 amazing children, a 12-year-old perpetual puppy, two dueling cats, and her lone surviving chicken of 8 years who she affectionately renamed Gloria (she will survive!)