Why do African-Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4th? It’s a question that hit me while reading some social media posts this weekend. I have my reasons as to why African-Americans celebrate the holiday, but a social media post or two (or three, now that I recall) think it insane. One person in particular said that they (to not give away gender, name, or otherwise) do not celebrate Independence Day because they don’t celebrate the birth of slaveowners or Presidents, and that those who do are insane.
This same person said that they don’t want to celebrate the colonists who fought against the Native Americans, took their land, and slaughtered record numbers of indigenous peoples in the name of fleeing England because to do so is to celebrate being in slavery and being in chains. “Who would celebrate that?” was the thought behind such statements. Another wished their circle a “Happy 15 days after Juneteenth,” another stab at Independence Day.
So in this post, we’re going to take a look at why African-Americans celebrate this most cherished holiday. There are good, valid reasons. When one reconsiders what the holiday means, he or she can easily see why the day is worth celebrating for those whose first entry into this country were as slaves packed as sardines on slave ships.
Before I get into the post, however, I should clarify something first. I included “African-Americans” instead of “blacks” in the post title because “black” is a color, not a race. During the time of George Floyd’s awful demise, I read where a fellow African-American said that we shouldn’t call all blacks “African-Americans” because some come from Jamaica, not Africa. I disagree with this assessment because Jamaicans consist of Africans whose ancestors were dropped off in Jamaica after they were placed on slave ships leaving Africa. All Jamaican blacks hail from Africa, as is the case for all black people in America. Thus, whether Jamaican-born or American-born, all those of sub-Saharan African skin tone are African-American and hail from Africa.
Take a dark-skinned Jamaican and have him or her do a DNA test; he or she will show up “x% African” because, as the saying goes, DNA doesn’t lie. If the DNA says you hail from Africa, then you do. If your DNA is “not Asian” or “not European,” then it is African. That may be an inference, but it is an educated one and not just a guess in the dark.
Additionally, I am also part African-American through my mother, part European through my father, and part Native American through both mom and dad. All 7 DNA tests I’ve taken from Ancestry, 23andme, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Genomelink, Living DNA, and GEDmatch have all declared me to be over 33% Nigerian and 50% African. Though I do not possess an African skin tone, I definitely have African blood running in my veins and am not ashamed of it. And as a fellow African-American (and a fellow Native American and European-American), I appeal to all my people, whether African or not, to think about this post before speaking against it.
Now, on to the task at hand.
Why African-Americans Celebrate Independence Day
Why do African-Americans celebrate Independence Day? I guess the question involves asking ourselves why should African-Americans celebrate July 4th at all.
we should celebrate freedom in all its forms
The first attack upon African-Americans celebrating Independence Day is that “well, it isn’t a day of freedom for us; it’s only a day of freedom for the white, English colonizers.” While it’s true that African-Americans were brought over to this country as slaves and that citizenship wasn’t provided for Africans at its inception, it’s also true that freedom is freedom and that we should celebrate freedom in all its forms.
Take Juneteenth, for example. Without July 4th, the day that freed America to establish its own rules and live out its own beliefs, there would be no Juneteenth on June 19th when the slaves were freed. Had America still been under the control of Great Britain, slavery would have been an institution for perhaps much longer. No Americans would have had any control over the issue of slavery, and no US President would have been able to abolish it because no such position would exist.
America’s freedom paved the way for the freedom of Africans to live as free men and women in America. Africans should have had their freedom from the beginning. When Thomas Jefferson declared in his Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” the phrase “all men” should have included Africans. It did, but it took time for those in control, that is, the white Englishmen, to acknowledge that. Nevertheless, the freedom of white Americans set the tone for the freedom of black Americans.
Additionally, we should celebrate freedom in all its forms. What does this mean? It means that whenever we see freedom being the cause of war, we should celebrate the goal of freedom. That doesn’t mean that the war itself will be pretty. That doesn’t mean that freedom will come overnight. But what it does mean is that, as long as the people commit themselves to freedom, it will eventually be achieved and celebrated. Whether it’s celebrating the end of apartheid in South Africa, or the end of slavery here in the US, the fight for freedom should always have our support — even if we’re not on the battleground, armed and ready to fight for it.
physical freedom and religious freedom go hand in hand
For African-American Christians, we have another reason along the same lines to celebrate the freedom of this country. We know from Scripture that God saw His people, the Israelites, enslaved in Egyptian bondage for 430 years. After that time, God sent His servant Moses to free His people. The reason, according to Moses, was for religious freedom: “Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1, NKJV). Holding a feast to their God was a part of the Israelite religious ritual. As long as they were slaves to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, they didn’t have time to hold religious gatherings or offer sacrifices to the God of Israel. And so, wrapped up in their physical freedom was their religious freedom, their ability to offer sacrifices to God without needing permission from Pharaoh or the Egyptians.
Just think: without the physical freedom of African-Americans, there would be no religious freedom. African-Americans would be forced to live as practicing Roman Catholics, even if they were treated as citizens because, without American freedom, Africans would live as Europeans in America would. Europeans came to this country in order to escape the tyrant King Charles I of England. They fled to America for religious freedom, the ability to worship their Creator as their conscience dictated. And religious freedom for Europeans is religious freedom for African-American citizens now. Our country had to have its freedom so that African-Americans could eventually have theirs, on every level.
America’s 44th President, Barack Obama (who is the son of an African father and European mother, thus the first biracial president), is one of the benefits of the fight for freedom and racial equality for African-Americans. When you look at Barack Obama, you’re looking at the culmination of all our African-American Revolutionary War ancestors fought for.
Physical freedom and religious freedom go hand in hand.
African-Americans Have Revolutionary War Ancestors
This may seem foreign to some, but I’ll say it: African-Americans celebrate Independence Day because we have Revolutionary War ancestors. Among these are Crispus Attucks, Salem Poor, West African-born poet Phyllis Wheatley, and James Armistead Lafayette. James Armistead added “Lafayette” as his surname after being freed by the testimony of the French war General Marquis de Lafayette. James Armistead served as a double agent in the Revolutionary War, pretending to work for the British while remaining loyal to the Patriot cause. His spy work helped end the war.
As a triracial American who is also African-American, I have Revolutionary War soldiers, some of whom were black (or so labeled themselves), while others were European. Two of my great-grandfathers, Naaman Mills and Benjamin Richardson, served in the Revolutionary War. And those are the two I’ve read about in detail. There are others.
According to historians, there were some 5,000-8,000 Revolutionary War soldiers who were African-American and fought with the hope of gaining their freedom. And many of us have African-American Revolutionary War soldiers as ancestors and we don’t even know it. How are we honoring their memory when we fail to celebrate the freedom they fought for so valiantly? It’s tantamount to not celebrating Veterans’ Day when we know that African-American soldiers served this country to maintain the freedom and privileges we take for granted.
Our lack of awareness of our ancestry and family history is not the fault of our ancestors; it’s our fault. And African-Americans who turn their backs on Independence Day are turning their backs on their own people.
It’s harsh, but it’s the truth.
African-Americans fought for their freedom: Conclusion
The reasons above are reasons why African-Americans celebrate Independence Day. We do not celebrate out of ignorance. We do not celebrate out of insanity. Rather, we celebrate because of knowledge and because of the sacrifices African-Americans made to obtain their freedom. We celebrate because freedom from tyranny and oppression is always a good reason to celebrate. We celebrate because our African-American Revolutionary War ancestors fought for their freedom and paved the way for the freedom of all African-Americans.
To be sure, we enjoy the time off with family and friends. We enjoy the parades and speeches, and flag-waving and loud fireworks. We enjoy the memories made and cherished. But the joy in our celebration is more far-reaching than that.
And to my fellow African-Americans who choose not to celebrate, I conclude with this:
You haven’t fully assessed the pioneers of your freedom in the American Revolution, nor have you honored them. Today is as good a day as ever to change that.