An African-American Pastor’s Thoughts about Independence Day
Pastor Bobby Scott
What isn’t fun about the 4th of July? Countless Americans will gather together for cookouts, enjoy delicious BBQ, and revel in the tradition of watching fireworks. Many will do so with deep gratitude for the freedom they enjoy as Americans. Freedom is the bedrock foundation of our nation for many. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for the Colonies’ independence from Great Britain. Two days later, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. So on the 4th of July, the Colonists declared that America would be a free Land—A Land where men and women from the four corners of the globe could and would come to pursue their dreams without the restraint of class or (forced taxation) of a dominant culture. It was a democratic experiment. The idea of America was to give birth to a dream. A land governed by the people and for the people. A hard war still had to be fought. Heroes were yet to be made. With the help of France, the colonists defeated the world’s strongest army and won their freedom in 1783. Then America—the Land of the Free was born.
My forefathers came to America in the early 1600s. They arrived in shackles. When the War for Independence began, they had been enslaved for 150 years doing hard labor. Their treatment was cruel, yet they were loyal to their new land. They too risked their lives and fought and died in the war. Although as history informs us, it wasn’t the War for Independence that gave them their freedom—that would come via the Civil War, fought 80 years later. And that war wasn’t fought for the freedom of slaves; it was fought over the issue of states’ rights versus federal rights. But the Land of the Free had to realize its dream that all men were created equal and all men should be free to pursue their dreams without the restraint of class, the oppression of a dominant culture, or injustice because of the color of their skin. The idea of America was a dream that would only be true if it ended the nightmare of slavery.
The war was hard. Millions of whites, slaves, black freedmen, and black free men paid the ultimate price of freedom with their blood. Thank God the Confederate South lost the battle! Yet tragically the leader who led our nation into freedom—President Lincoln—was assassinated. And shortly thereafter, the congressional leaders from the North, whose soldiers had won the battle on the field, conceded defeat in Congress, allowing for systematic racism to become the law of the land in the supposed land of the free for another 100 years. Again, the dream of independence turned into a nightmare for every Africa descendant on America’s soil. Creating an unseemly racialized two Americas—a white over black America from everything from voting, to water fountains, to restaurant dining, to schools, to policing practices, to wealth (The Freedmen’s Bureau failed to give African Americans their hard earned 40 acres and a mule. So former slaves continued to receive slave wages, and instead of living in the pursuit of happiness, they lived in a pursuit of perpetual poverty). I’ve actually seen, collapsed on the ground, the small tin hut where my forefathers lived as indentured servants working cotton fields in North Carolina.
So on July 1st I sit writing and wondering, should I celebrate the 4th of July knowing that the 4th was a hope that turned into a long nightmare of a devastated dream deferred? I was born on January 31st 1964, into an America, where African-Americans still couldn’t vote. My parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were robbed daily of the dignity due them as men and women made in the imago Dei. “Whites only” signs were everywhere outside of their black communities. Under paying jobs was their lot in life, as they lived under the threat of secret white societies who terrorized African Americans to keep them in their place by lynching any and all whom they pleased. As Langston Hughes bemoaned, I was born into an “America (that) was never America to me.” But thank God another war broke out, the legislative Civil Rights War—the war for Independence of African-Americans.
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