By Dr. John E. Warren
Because of where America stands today on the ever present issue of race, the following reflections are offered from the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776. First, the Preamble, which has much bearing on where we stand today as a nation:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, they should declare the causes which impel them to separation…”
The Republican Party and all its state affiliates seeking to abolish voting and civil rights, have provided living proof that the political “Bands” they are connected to do not include us, as people of color. The voter suppression laws, murder of Black people by law enforcement and the biased prision sentences for the murder of Black people such as that given to Derek Chauvin, are clear proof that there is no belief that “that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Before we get too excited about the cookouts and holiday celebrations with fireworks across this great land, let us reflect on some of the words of Frederick Douglass which appear else where in this issue as his Fourth of July Speech of 1852 in Rochester, New York. Let’s look at Independence as being incomplete because of the disparity that Douglass found between Black and White. Today such disparities exist at every level, in spite of the efforts of so many whites who have joined with Black people in the struggle.
Douglass asked in his speech: “Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence extended to us?” It would appear that in 160 years, many of his questions remain unanswered.
The inequality of slavery still exists today in the minds and behavior of many Americans who cannot accept that America is a melting pot of all nations. ”Out of many, one”. That melting pot includes people of color. The key requirement is that we as people of color must never accept less than equality in all things. While we may not technically be slaves, as reminded by the recent declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, many of us are still mental slaves to mediocrity and the acceptance of less than what we should have. If some of us remain slaves to inequality and injustice, then the following question Douglass raised is appropriate today:
“What to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; 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. To him your celebration is a sham, your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
In conclusion: what should we do? We should review the America to whom Frederick Douglass spoke. We should weigh against his words how far we have come. We should celebrate Juneteenth; the 13th,14th and 15th amendments; the Emancipation Proclamation, which had not been thought of when he wrote this speech; Civil rights, Voting Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity as well as an integrated armed forces. While we are remembering and celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court Decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, let us remember that our schools are more segregated now than ever before. Yes, we can take some time out to celebrate that which we should have already enjoyed, as stated elsewhere here.
What is the 4th of July? That which I must still fight for to make real in the lives of those who look like me.
Dr. John E. Warren is publisher of The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint.