An Integrated, United Independence

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JULY 3, 2020: A cohesive, book-ended 16-day celebration of unified American Independence starting on June 19th and culminating on July 4th could be something meaningful, for all, to celebrate. 

By Mark Fleischer, Publisher

Hot dogs. Apple pie. Lemonaid. Parades. Fireworks. Live music. Independence.

It’s a difficult to get excited about the 4th of July this year when half of what we love about the holiday won’t be happening, will be handled virtually, or feels hollow for many.

For me personally, July 4th is one of my favorite days of the year. A day to celebrate outside with friends, family and neighbors the joys of the most American of traditions dressed with the pure Americana of red, white and blue. And especially here in Memphis, where we can typically count on not two or three but dozens of celebrations and parades throughout the city. I do love it. 

Part of my joy of the day has always been the feeling that all of America is celebrating the same things: Freedom, Independence, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. But those ideals feel quite different this year. 

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” said Frederick Douglass in 1852. 

On the tails of the Black Lives Matter movement, where July 4th does not have the same meaning it does for generations of white Americans, the day does not have the same one-for-all celebratory ring to it. And with more attention on Juneteenth in celebration of the day the formerly enslaved could finally claim their emancipation in 1865, the two days seem to echo an old axiom, the legal doctrine unconstitutional since 1954 that was nonetheless commonly employed through the 1960s and ’70s: Separate but equal. 

Our two summer celebrations and what they honor, further echoing that segregationist term, are definitely not equal. And in some parts of the country, it is disturbing that this seems just fine by some folks. 

But why should they be summarily segregated? Why can’t they be integrated, and celebrated together?

The two days are precisely sixteen days apart. 16: the number is interesting here. It is a number often associated with coming of age. Sweet sixteen. It’s the minimum age requirement for a driver’s license. In chess, each player begins with 16 pieces. In mathematical terms it’s the fourth power of two. A ‘sixteen’ is a slang term for a hip-hop verse. In science, group 16 of the periodic table are the chalcogens – the oxygens! In numerology, it is associated with introspection, wisdom, family, and you guessed it, independence.

A cohesive, book-ended 16-day celebration of unified American Independence starting on June 19th and culminating on July 4th could highlight the summer season. It could be the time we as a country honor each year the unifying efforts of Whites and Blacks. 

There are significant dates in history that further this idea.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act cleared the second of its three hurdles with its passage by the U.S. Senate on the 19th day of June that year – Juneteenth – and signed into law by President Johnson on July 2nd. In his speech to the nation on the signing of the act, the President invoked the language and declarations of the Constitution, that “We believe that all men are created equal, but many are denied equal treatment.”

Frederick Douglass delivered his 1852 “What to the slave is the Fourth of July” speech on July 5th of that year, the same year that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. 

In the Jewish community Hanukkah is celebrated (exactly half of sixteen) over eight days and nights. The Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights, it’s a model that could be applied to a sixteen-day period that honors both the Juneteenth and July 4th celebrations, bringing them together in food, song, dedications and remembrances, and of course, a few fireworks and marches, or what we call parades. 

Call me naive. Call this wishful thinking. But why the hell not? In the spirit of unifying the two celebrations, unifying a nation, maybe there’s something there.

About July 4th, Douglass said that it’s a day that to the slave “reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

An Integrated American Independence could carry us one step further to once and for all reverse and heal that painful lament, and be something meaningful, for all, to celebrate.

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