Should African-Americans Celebrate The Independence Day?
Recently, I was one of the guests on a radio program in Burlington, NJ. I was there representing the 6th Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops, Reenactors (6th CTUSCT) . In the course of conversation the Chris Rock controversy was mentioned. The hostess remarked about the hostile backlash he has received in the media. She has agreed with his quip intimating July 4th as beiing "white peoples" holiday. She never never attends an Independence Day Parade, and has to "sit on her hands" during July 4th celebrations. Another guest said he didn't celebrate the holiday because most blacks were slaves in 1776.
Who doesn't like fireworks and a day off? Many Americans take its' meaning granted. Many traditionalists view the 4th as a day of patriotism, a historic narrative which affirms their American identity. For others, the patriotic aspect of the holiday is a hard sale. Many blacks view the same narrative as being, at best, a naive denial of the past, and at worst, perpetuation of white hegemony. For them, the holiday celebrates war which was fought for liberties for "white Americans", not freedom. This is the basis of Chis Rock's remark. Traditionalists are critical of those holding this view, insisting they are being unpatriotic, ungrateful, and un- American. But, there's the catch. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, there were no "African-Americans". Before the passing of the 14th Amendment in 1866, blacks were not even considered citizens, and were counted as 3/5th of a person by the Constitution (Article I section 2). They were "Africans in America", with no rights that a white man that white men were obliged to recognize (Dredd Scott 1857).
As historical interpreters, black reenactors know the historical details and the experiences of blacks during the formative years of this country, better than most. Yet, this July 4TH, eighteen Civil War re-enactors from the 3rd, 6th, 22nd, and 54th Infantry Regiments USCT participated in the Philadelphia Independence Day Parade. We do this every year, patriotically displaying the national and regimental flags of the period. So, I invited the hostess and her audience to come out and support us at next years Independence Day Parade.
- Why do we participate in this event?
- Why march as black Civil War soldiers in a parade commemorating a war fought for the liberty of white Americans?
I've been invited back to progam to discuss the answers. Stay tuned. I'll announce the schedule for the show. In the mean time. What's your opinion?