“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Famed black abolitionist and a former slave Frederick Douglass would pose this question before a large, and dominantly white crowd in Rochester, New York, on July 5th, 1852. So, Was The Fourth Of July A Black Holiday? Find out exclusively:
Looking back to history:
“a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim,”
Douglass was explaining, also adding that he felt the same way:
“I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! … This Fourth [of] July is yours not mine.”
A little more than a decade would pass and African Americans like Douglass started making the glorious anniversary their own. Once the Civil War ended in 1865, the nation’s four million newly liberated citizens transformed Independence Day in the USA into a celebration of black freedom. The Fourth became an exclusively African American holiday in the states of the former Confederacy- until white Southerners violently reasserted their dominance in the region.
Before the Civil War, white Americans from all corners of the country had annually marked the Fourth with feasts, parades, and big quantities of alcohol. Black Americans would demonstrate considerably less enthusiasm. But for those who did want to observe the holiday- like Douglass did so on the 5th July for better accentuating the difference between the high promises of the Fourth and the low realities of life for African Americans. They also wanted to avoid any confrontations with drunken white revelers. You are reading “Was The Fourth Of July A Black Holiday?”
Even then, tables had turned by July 4, 1865. Well, that was the case at least in the South. Having lost a gruesome four-year war for breaking free from the United States and defending the institution of slavery, Confederate sympathizers showed little interest in celebrating the Fourth now that they were with the Union and slavery no longer existed. “The white people”, wrote a young woman residing in Columbia, South Carolina, “shut themselves within doors.”
Meanwhile, African Americans had embraced the Fourth like never before. From Washington, D.C. to Mobile, Alabama, these people would gather together and watch fireworks while listening to the orators reciting the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Thirteenth Amendment, that had abolished slavery when it had been ratified in late 1865. Was The Fourth Of July A Black Holiday?
At 1865 commemoration in Charleston, one speaker marked out the altering meaning of the holiday for African Americans, who could finally “bask in the sunshine of liberty.” The martial displays at this and successive celebrations underscored his point. Each year, nearly thousands of black South Carolinians would line up and watch African American militia companies marching through the city streets. Led by mounted officers, some of whom had been ex-slaves, these black companies had often been named for abolitionists and other black heroes.
In Charleston and elsewhere, whites were deeply resenting their former slaves turning the Fourth into a commemoration of black liberty, What a “dreadful day” it was, a complain from one Charleston planter in a letter to his daughter. Even some Northern Whites were not abiding by what they saw. At the 1865 festivities in Mobile, federal troops from Illinois and Indiana could be overheard wishing newly freed slaves dead.
So, Was The Fourth Of July A Black Holiday? You can know more about it in our second edition. Till then, leave a comment below and let us know what you think.