CultureSOUL: Frederick Douglass - Independence Day, 1852
“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
“The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”
As descendants of African American slaves, and in this post-12 YEARS era, we must be compelled to remember our history accurately. This means it is important to acknowledge the historical fact that ‘independence’ in 1776 did not come for black folks. Our freedom came nearly 100 years later.
The historical giant Frederick Douglass, as the most famous ‘free negro’ in America and the voice of the anti-slavery movement, was asked to speak to a white audience on this day in 1852. His speech (full text linked below) remains one of the most damning indictments of slavery and the hypocrisy of the holiday (at that time) that’s ever been recorded.
While he expressed deep respect for the founding fathers and their ideals, he then asked his nation, but why not for all? Douglass went on to deliver a blistering indictment and spoke of his anger at being asked to revere a country that continued to keep his brothers in chains. This powerful speech became one of his most famous and it serves to remind us of the towering legacy of Frederick Douglass and his righteous fight for his people and his country.
While primarily known for his stellar early color photographs of African American entertainers, Van Vechten also took portraits of lesser-known or unnamed friends, family and everyday people. For more on his entertainment portraits, another photoset here.
CultureHISTORY: Emmitt Till - (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955)
Today would have marked Till’s 73rd birthday. Sadly his fate was resigned to history when he was brutally murdered at the age of 14 while down in Mississippi visiting relatives in August 1955. The horrendous hate crime became national news and one of the major catalysts for the Civil Rights movement. It’s been reported that Rosa Parks admitted that this boy’s death was on her mind when she refused to give up her seat four months later in December of the same year.
For those who don’t know this vital story in Black (and American) history, Till was brutally slaughtered and thrown in a shallow river by two white men who thought he had disrespected a white woman by merely speaking to her. When his body was returned to his mother in Chicago, she was so distraught and angry that she requested an open casket for his funeral. The pictures were awful but they helped to galvanize the greatest civil rights movement of the 20th century.