Eighth Ways Families Can Honor African Americans on July 4th

By Kathryn V. Stanley

The 4th of July honoring the day America declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776 presents a conundrum for black and brown families given that at the time African Americans were enslaved, and the “We” in “We the People…” did not include us. We have spent the better part of the last two centuries fighting to matter, fighting to be a part of “We the people…” Recent events show us that while we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

When I was a child my mother would begin our day by reminding us of the paradox of Independence Day for black people. And, while we would attend a cookout with family friends annually, and would take in the fireworks on the National Mall in Washington, DC, she would begin the day by quoting the title to Frederick Douglass’s famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” This list is curated with the hope that families will consider the paradox that July 4th has been and continues to be and include within their celebrations a few of these suggestions:

  1. Make a video of you and your family reading an excerpt of Frederick Douglass’s famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2927t.html

  1. Research African American contributions to the Revolutionary War including Crispus Attucks, the war’s first casualty. Here’s a starting place. https://www.history.com/news/black-heroes-american-revolution

  1. Create a list of freedom songs from various eras, include a variety of genres including classical and hip hop. Or listen to this one Protest: The Righteous & Ratchet Journey to Justice! curated by Dr. Tony McNeil). Available on Apple Music or Spotify.

  1. Include fresh fruits and vegetable choices on your cookout menu and beyond. African Americans have been farmers for centuries as our ancestors lived off the land. Consider visiting a farm where you can pick you own fruits and vegetables, begin your own vegetables garden, or visit a local farmers’ market.

  1. Take a virtual tour of the Museum of African American History and Culture https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/collection or another museum that displays the cultural heritage of African Americans.

  1. Watch movies that highlight the African American struggle for liberty. Consider Harriet, Glory, Selma, or I am Not Your Negro, or Just Mercy. For additional film ideas click here :https://sites.google.com/view/onthereelwithandrew/reel-recommendations?authuser=0

  1. Add the following books to your anti-racism book collection: Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own (Eddie Glaude, Jr.), Anti-Racist Baby (Ibram X. Kendi) and Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America (Gilda R. Daniels)

  1. Explore African American historical markers in or near your hometown. Explore if your town has historical markers on the site of lynchings. Plan a walking tour of a few of these markers to make it a part an exercise routine. For more information visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project webpage https://eji.org/projects/community-remembrance-project/

Kathryn V. Stanley is a middle school educator, writer/editor and public theologian living in Atlanta, Georgia.

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