America has its good, bad, and ugly but there’s always a reason for hope. In the United States, Independence Day is the annual celebration of nationhood. It’s also called the Fourth of July or July 4th. The federal holiday commemorates the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The Declaration announced the freedom of the 13 North American colonies from Great Britain. The founding document of the United States explained “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” But, in 1776, the newly independent nation, free from British control, still held hundreds of thousands of Black people in captivity. For many Black Americans, the fourth of July means something other than independence.
In an article, Dr. Rick Warren, President and Founder of the Black Expo and RW Media Enterprises said, “The Declaration of Independence is probably the most hypocritical document. At one point, they’re declaring freedom, and at another point, they’re enslaving people. It’s an interesting dichotomy. So many Black people in America have always had an interesting view on the Fourth of July. In our culture, it’s become one of those holidays used more as a family get-together. It’s an opportunity for us to come together rather than a celebration of freedom.”
This is the first time I am understanding the correlation between Juneteenth and Independence Day, and how these holidays are very different – then and now – particularly from the Black perspective. The National Museum of African American History and Culture explains the Fourth of July as an occasion for all Americans to mark the nation’s independence and its paradox. It is also a time to remember the contributions of African Americans in building the nation that is celebrated each year. Both Juneteenth and the Fourth of July provide a moment for everyone to consider the meaning and manifestation of a-more inclusive freedom.
“The Fourth of July is a sacred day in America — it’s a time to celebrate the goodness of the nation, the only nation on Earth founded based on an idea: that all people are created equal,” President Joe Biden tweeted on Monday. “Make no mistake, our best days still lie ahead.”
America celebrates this year’s Independence Day as the nation is rocked by hearings over the Jan. 6 insurrection, awash in turmoil over high court rulings on abortion and guns, and struggling to maintain the bonds that keep it together. Yet many also see cause to celebrate Monday: the deadly danger of the pandemic has lessened and, despite its fault lines, America’s democracy survives.
The day is celebrated by people taking off work, flocking to parades, devouring hot dogs and burgers at backyard barbecues, and gathering under a canopy of stars and exploding fireworks — in many cases, for the first time in three years amid easing coronavirus precautions.
Baltimore, for one, is resuming its Independence Day celebrations after a two-year hiatus. Colorful displays big and small will light up the night sky in cities from New York to Seattle to Chicago to Dallas. However, others, particularly in drought-stricken and wildfire-prone regions of the West, will forgo them. Phoenix is also again going without fireworks — not because of the pandemic or fire concerns but due to supply-chain issues.
In emotional ceremonies across the country, some will swear oaths of citizenship, qualifying them to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. During a ceremony for naturalized citizens held at Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was slated to tell 52 people originally from 42 different countries that they were essential to building a strong labor force.
“Immigrants strengthen our workforce, and, in the process, help drive the resiliency and vitality of our economy,” Yellen said in prepared remarks for the Monday event.
To be sure, these are precarious times: An economic recession lurks, and the national psyche is raw from mass shootings like those seen recently at a Texas elementary school and a New York supermarket.
Sharp social and political divisions have also been laid bare by recent Supreme Court decisions overturning the constitutional right to abortion and striking down a New York law limiting who may carry a gun in public.
“Independence Day doesn’t feel like much of a celebration when our basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are on the chopping block,” New York Attorney General Tish James, a Democrat, tweeted. “Today, I encourage you to imagine what this nation could be if and when we live up to our values.”
But for many, July 4 is also a chance to set aside political differences and to celebrate unity, reflecting on the revolution that gave rise to history’s longest-living democracy.
“There’s always something to divide or unite us,” says Eli Merritt, a political historian at Vanderbilt University whose upcoming book traces the fraught founding of the United States in 1776. But he sees the Jan. 6 hearings probing last year’s storming of the U.S. Capitol as a reason for hope, an opportunity to rally behind democratic institutions. Even though not all Americans or their elected representatives agree with the committee’s work, Merritt is heartened by the fact that it’s at least somewhat bipartisan with some Republicans joining in.
“Moral courage as a locus for Americans to place hope, the willingness to stand up for what is right and true in spite of negative consequences to oneself,” he said. “That is an essential glue of constitutional democracy.”
Bonus Resource: For immigrants, being an American citizen is a new type of freedom that can bring tremendous opportunities. Follow the USCIS YouTube for latest updates.
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