What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

By Urban League of Westchester Published July 4, 2024

Independence Day, marking the birth of the United States in 1776, is often seen as a symbol of freedom and democracy. However, for many African Americans, this day holds a complex and somber significance, as poignantly articulated by Frederick Douglass in his speech, “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?”

Douglass’s powerful words remind us that, while the Declaration of Independence proclaimed liberty and justice, it did not extend these ideals to the enslaved Africans who were an integral part of building the young nation. For them, the promise of freedom was a distant hope, unfulfilled on that historic day.

Fast forward to June 19, 1865, when news of emancipation finally reached enslaved people in Texas, marking the true day of liberation—Juneteenth. This day has come to symbolize the end of slavery in the United States and serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.

Today, as the nation observes the 4th of July, we must acknowledge the progress made since those early days, while also recognizing the work that remains. The Urban League of Westchester is committed to advancing civil rights and social action, striving for equity in all facets of society. We celebrate the resilience and achievements of the African American community, from emancipation to the civil rights movement and beyond.

Despite the progress, significant work still needs to be done to ensure true freedom and equality for all. Voting rights remain a critical issue, as efforts to disenfranchise marginalized communities persist. We must continue to fight for laws and policies that protect every citizen's right to vote and ensure that our democracy is inclusive and representative.

Furthermore, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) must be at the forefront of our societal efforts. It is essential to address systemic discrimination in education, employment, housing, and the criminal justice system. Equity in these areas is crucial for achieving true social justice and ensuring that every individual has the opportunity to thrive.

As we enjoy the festivities of the 4th of July, let us also remember the significance of Juneteenth and the importance of continuing the fight for true independence for all. Together, we can create a future where liberty and justice are not just ideals, but realities for every American.

Happy 4th of July and a reflective Juneteenth to all.