Famed 19th Century abolitionist and fighter for racial justice Frederick Douglass thundered in a speech "What is the Fourth of July to Me." Douglass asked the question and then proceeded to bitterly answer it. Put simply, it was a sham and hypocrisy of a holiday for a nation that pretended to extol the virtues of freedom and liberty yet continued to hold millions of blacks in chains, the lash, the gun, and every barbarism known to humankind. But Douglass did not just whipsaw America for its hypocrisy. He also offered hope for an America to redeem itself by making justice and equality a fact for all.
That was a century and a half ago. Douglass would probably still raise many questions about race, discrimination, poverty, and inequality, and injustice that still is deeply embedded in much of American society today. But he also would have at least a half smile of satisfaction that the nation has moved a long way in the past century toward shaving off some of the harshest and roughest edges of slave and later Jim Crow America.
The litany of civil rights laws, voting rights laws, affirmative action programs, court decisions, the spectacular rise of a prosperous black middle class, legions of top and influential black politicians, business leaders, and educators, and of course, the election of an African-American president all point to the partial fulfillment of America's promise. I'll remember both the failure and the promise, as Douglas did so long ago, on America's day of days.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com