9 Reasons Why I Don’t Celebrate the 4th of July

Dana P. Saxon
6 min readJul 4, 2020

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On the 4th of July, Americans celebrate Independence Day. Because in 1776, the United States declared its independence from Britain. And with the Declaration of Independence, Americans determined they were free and independent.

That’s cool for them. And I won’t challenge the right of Americans to celebrate their freedom. However, I don’t see how one single part of this 4th of July holiday has anything to do with me or my ancestors.

After 1776, it took nearly another 100 years before my ancestors technically gained their freedom in 1865. And a whole heap of pain, trauma, and oppression maintained during those years when only white Americans were liberated from someone else’s rule.

To summarize my rejection of this holiday, here are 9 reasons why I don’t celebrate the 4th of July:

1. Three-Fifths Compromise (1787)

Although there were debates about the legitimacy of slavery in the U.S., Southern politicians fought relentlessly to maintain the rights and financial benefits that enslavers gained from the institution. Included in this struggle was whether or not enslaved people should be counted as part of the U.S. population. To increase their representation in U.S. Congress, southerners argued enslaved people should be counted, while northerners argued only the free population should be counted. In 1787, at the United States Constitutional Convention, delegates from the Northern and Southern states reached a compromise. An enslaved person would count as three-fifths of a person. Although this had no impact on the rights of enslaved people — who still had none — partially counting the enslaved population determined a state’s direct taxation and representation in the House of Representatives.

the three-fifths compromise said we weren’t free or whole humans

2. Fugitive Slave Clause (1789)

The U.S. Constitution, which is the supreme law of the United States of America, includes a Fugitive Slave Clause. Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 protected enslavers and the institution of slavery. If an enslaved person (or indentured servant) escaped captivity and fled to another state, that “person held to service or labor” was required to be returned to his or her enslaver in the state from which they escaped.

handwritten oppression

3. Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 (1793)

In 1793, Congress passed the first Fugitive Slave Act. To quell Black people’s ongoing need for freedom, as well as growing activism among abolitionists in northern states, this federal law authorized local governments to seize and return runaway enslaved people to their “owners” and imposed penalties on anyone who aided in their flight. In addition to maintaining control over enslaved people, the Fugitive Slave Act resulted in the illegal capture of many free Black people who were sold into slavery.

wanted dead or alive

4. Cotton gin (1794)

In 1794, Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin, a machine that helped Southern farmers significantly increase the production of cotton by speeding up the process of removing seeds from cotton fiber. With the cotton gin, American enslavers could increase their profits by producing more cotton with the free labor of enslaved people. This cycle of free labor, increased production, and growing wealth was their justification to maintain and expand slavery.

forced to work even harder

5. First law to prohibit “importing” enslaved Africans (1808)

Until 1808, it was legal for Americans to bring enslaved Africans into the United States. Congress passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807, but the federal law didn’t take effect until January 1, 1808. That was the earliest date permitted by the U.S. Constitution. This law had no impact on people who were born into slavery in the U.S. And enslavers continued to enslave and illegally bring Africans to the U.S. until approximately 1860.

6. Nat Turner’s revolt and execution (1831)

On August 21, 1831, Nathanial “Nat” Turner, led a powerful rebellion of enslaved people that resulted in the killing of about 55 white people. Turner eventually was caught and executed, along with 16 supporters. Another 56 enslaved people who were accused of participating in the rebellion were executed, and more than 200 others were beaten by angry mobs and white militias. Nat Turner’s revolt led to a new wave of oppressive legislation that prohibited the education, movement, and assembly of enslaved people. Many other rebellions of enslaved people took place before and during the 19th century, including Gabriel Prosser’s revolt in Virginia in 1800, the 1811 German Coast uprising near New Orleans, Denmark Vesey’s rebellion in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822, and the Amistad revolt in 1839.

they captured and murdered a hero

7. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (1850)

Remember the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793? Well, when it was met with resistance from abolitionists in northern states, Congress passed a new law in 1850, adding even more provisions to protect enslavers, restrain runaways, and impose harsher punishments for those who interfered with their capture.

8. Dred Scott decision (1857)

In November 1853, Dred and Harriet Scott, an enslaved couple, filed separate lawsuits for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. Eventually, their cases were combined and reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Court determined that all people of African descent, free or enslaved, were not United States citizens. Therefore, they had no rights to sue in federal court. Further, since enslaved people were the legal property of enslavers, the Fifth Amendment protected the rights of slave owners.

Dred Scott (ca. 1857), when he was finally free

9. Frederick Douglass summed it up best

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered his very famous speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

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 boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

badass

So, before you fire up the grill today. Give some thought to whether or not this holiday is for you to celebrate — or is this one we should be sitting out.

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Dana P. Saxon

An educator and a researcher. Living that Black expat life. Eating red velvet cake. Learn more and support my work at ancestors-unknown.org.