Juneteenth: The real Independence Day

By George Ploss

I always thought it ironic for African-Americans to celebrate Independence Day. I love this country. I enjoy its freedoms and will fight to defend it to the death of me. However, I am also aware of and will never dishonor those who came before, white and black, who bled to keep the stripes red, specifically my ancestors whose blood was shed largely unwillingly to keep this democracy intact.

Intact for us to believe that the last vestiges of racism were abolished after the Civil Rights Movement, for us to think the Civil War was fought over slavery and that Lincoln freed the slaves. It’s similar to the way that President Bush invaded Iraq to free an oppressed people and fight tyranny throughout the world.

An exercise in truthiness, as Stephen Colbert would put it, is what the above is. So let’s get real. Do we celebrate an emancipation day, like, say for instance, that of Trinidad & Tobago? When this country was born, my ancestors were in bondage and on the tail end of giving this country its free foundation of labor. So in the end, restitution would take the form of “us” having the opportunity to enjoy an exaggerated truth; the hubris of a nation that would have us believe that we are all equal and have been since its inception.

So why celebrate the Fourth?

On July 4, 1859, Mr. Jacob C. White Jr. and the Banneker Institute of Philadelphia urged African-Americans to celebrate the Fourth of July and said “We have learned by experience and by the comparison of ourselves with people similarly situated, to hope that, at some day not very far in futurity, our grievances will be redressed, that our long lost rights will be restored to us, and that, in the full stature of men, we will stand up, and with our once cruel opponents and oppressors rejoice in the Declaration of our common country, and hail with them the approach of the glorious natal day of the Great Republic.”

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The city of brotherly love – philos meaning loving and adelphos meaning brother – coming together to make Philadelphia, was without leukos, meaning white and arrhen, meaning male, for white males were the only people who were celebrating freedom on July 4, 1776.

The closest thing African-Americans have in this country in Juneteenth. For those who don’t know, Juneteenth originates in Texas. June 19, 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to tell slaves that they were free was the day that African-Americans in Texas “learned” freedom. It was an unrecognized holiday in the great state of Texas for decades until it was made official on January 1, 1980. Florida has May 8 and Mississippi has May 20 to mark learned African-American freedom but Texas seems to have the celebration locked with its consistent celebrations.

I think it is important that our freedom in this country was “learned” by us and given to us by a president because one, the illegal acts of slavery were not broadcasted after the Civil War and two, freedom is an internal struggle that continues to this day for many African-Americans, including me. It is always under attack, whether it be from a suicide bomber or a bill called the Patriot Act, a Klansman or a politician.

Freedom is a different battle for all people, let us celebrate our country as Americans under a common umbrella despite our different paths to freedom. Happy Fourth of July, don’t just use it as an excuse to blow up small sticks of dynamite, however apropos it may seem to the American persona. One love.