Unlike the overwhelming majority of my fellow Americans, I do not celebrate the Fourth of July as “Independence Day.” I cannot in good conscience because my direct lineage is traced from the nearly half million blacks enslaved throughout the American Colonies–not just the South as shown in the map below–before and long after Thomas Jefferson inscribed the Declaration of Independence that was adopted on July 4, 1776.
(Map of slavery in Colonial America)
It frustrates me to no end when some modern day slavery apologists suggest that Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration were “men of their times,” or when others defend Jefferson and fellow Founding Fathers George Washington and James Madison–each a slave owner–as men who were “vexed” by the immorality of the so-called “Peculiar Institution.” No, they were not, and I say this because choosing to free their slaves upon their deaths, as Washington and Jefferson did, is not the same as freeing enslaved people during their lives; both Washington and Jefferson benefited financially from the forced labor of enslaved blacks until death and as for Jefferson, he also benefited from raping the flesh of his enslaved half-sister in law, Sally Hemings. Yeah, I know that some Americans like to get all idealistic and imagine some idyllic love affair between the pair, but the fact remains that Hemings was owned by a man more than twice her senior, and said man had a predilection for her flesh since she was a child, thus making her a rape victim and him the first known pedophile/rapist in chief.
Long before Jefferson became the Third POTUS, his words, ones that will be published in newspapers across America this coming Tuesday, were arguably the greatest form of sophistry in world history when considering that tens of thousands of men, women and children remained in bondage at the time. Indeed, your favorite local or national news organization will print:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Yeah, Massa Jefferson, right!!! “All” was actually “some,” specifically white men regardless of economic class (excluding white women as well).
Even worse in my estimation is that Jefferson knew that slavery was a moral outrage, as one of his original drafts criticized King George III with the following powerful passage:
“…(h)e has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”
That last sentence that Jefferson wrote, that the King was “exciting those very people (black people) to rise in arms among us,” was the deal breaker, as the deep southern states with heavy populations of enslaved blacks living among a small number of whites refused to sign off on such concepts. Indeed, fear of black slave revolts informed much of the debate about slavery, free blacks and the right for the latter to bear arms once the Constitution was ratified 11 years later. Further, that Jefferson so easily caved in and removed the passage shows that in the end, he, too, was selfish and concerned about his own pecuniary gain and social standing among fellow planters as opposed to ascribing the “All men are created equal” concept to enslaved blacks, too.
Understanding this, I will enjoy my time off from my duties as a lawyer. But I would be foolish and disrespecting the memory of my ancestors, however, by dressing up like Uncle Sam while listening to “Stars and Stripes Forever” on the Fourth. So my day off will be no different from many of my non-black colleagues who take the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day off each year while giving scant attention to the meaning of that holiday. I surmise that they do this because on some deep level, Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement meant or means nothing to them–just like Thomas Jefferson’s words of freedom meant nothing to my ancestors on the day that they were inscribed.