xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

What does it mean to be a Black American on July 4th? We asked 12 community leaders.

Many Americans will celebrate the Fourth of July today, pausing after months of protests over police violence and systemic racism sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.

But Independence Day has a whole different meaning to people who have been marginalized.

Advertisement

The Capital asked Black leaders across Annapolis and Anne Arundel County what it means to be a Black American on this day.

They recounted the words Civil Rights giants Frederick Douglass, Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. used to explain that Fourth of July won’t be Independence Day for Black people until deep divisions and disparities are ended.

Advertisement

Here are their words, edited lightly for brevity, clarity and style:

Jacqueline Boone Allsup

President of Anne Arundel County Branch NAACP

Anne Arundel NAACP President Jacqueline Boone Allsup speaks about the impact youth are having in the Black Lives Matter movement and racism she has faced in her life.
Anne Arundel NAACP President Jacqueline Boone Allsup speaks about the impact youth are having in the Black Lives Matter movement and racism she has faced in her life. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Growing up in Anne Arundel County as a child, I always thought that July 4th was Independence Day, a day to celebrate. In my community families gathered to have cookouts and would prepare to watch fireworks later in the evening. In school, I learned Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and this document freed the slaves.

But now as an adult, I know that it was June 19, 1865, when the last enslaved people in Texas learned they were no longer in bondage. So my Independence Day is Juneteenth. It is a time to commune in prayer, music and dance, and food to remember the lives of slaves that were lost. Discrimination and racism continue to exist in this county.

Carl Snowden

Convener of the Anne Arundel County Caucus of American Leaders

Carl Snowden, Annapolis civil rights activist and convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders, gives remarks at a stop in the Stillmeadows neighborhood during a march.
Carl Snowden, Annapolis civil rights activist and convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders, gives remarks at a stop in the Stillmeadows neighborhood during a march. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Malcolm X summed up the meaning of the Fourth of July for many African-Americans when he said, “That’s not a chip on my shoulder. That’s your foot on my neck.” He said that in 1965 and given the horrendous death of George Floyd in 2020, it takes on an even more poignant meaning.

Suffice it to say Independence Day will never mean the same to Black Americans as it means to White Americans as long as an American apartheid criminal justice system exists, one where, in the words of Richard Pryor, “justice” means just-us being indicted, tried and convicted based on the hue of our skin.

Bishop Antonio Palmer

Vice President of the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County

Bishop Antonio Palmer, of the Kingdom Celebration Center in Odenton, gives remarks at Van Bokkelen Elementary School before a protest walk begins.
Bishop Antonio Palmer, of the Kingdom Celebration Center in Odenton, gives remarks at Van Bokkelen Elementary School before a protest walk begins. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Nearly 170 years after Frederick Douglass’ keynote address at an Independence Day celebration where he asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” America is faced with basically the same question, “To what value is Independence Day to us descendants of slaves?”

To me, Independence Day now has an asterisk beside it like an athlete who gained success by the illegal use of Performance-Enhancing Drugs. We are awfully reminded of America’s ill-gotten success from the disdain of slavery and the never-ending mistreatment and marginalization of Black America.

This year and forward, we refuse to celebrate in ignorance. America’s Independence Day has little value to me until I see significant social and economic changes.

Janice Hayes-Williams

Historian

Advertisement
Janice Hayes Williams orchestrated the return of remains to Annapolis believed to be Smith Price, one of the founders of the Black community in Annapolis.
Janice Hayes Williams orchestrated the return of remains to Annapolis believed to be Smith Price, one of the founders of the Black community in Annapolis.

On this Fourth of July, I am proud to spend time with my family to include my grandson, Sebastian Wolfe Williams, ninth generation of Africans stolen and enslaved in Anne Arundel County.

Unlike his grandmother, educated in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Sebastian will not be taught that “a Carroll, a Chase, a Paca, and a Stone” were responsible for enslaving his ancestors, not independence.

On this Fourth of July, I am proud to be alive in this moment of higher consciousness lead by the youth of this America, changing America where “all men are created equal.”

Rhonda Pindell-Charles

Annapolis alderwoman

Rhonda Pindell Charles, Annapolis alderwoman.
Rhonda Pindell Charles, Annapolis alderwoman. (Paul W. Gillespie / Capital Gazette)

Wikipedia defines Independence Day as “the holiday that commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States, where, in 1776, the Continental Congress declared that the 13 American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Britain, King George III, and were now united, free, and independent states.”

Especially as we look back over the last six weeks, can we declare that African-Americans are no longer subject and subordinate to racism, systematic oppression, injustice, violence, and police brutality, but are now united, free, and can proclaim our independence?

If we cannot, then Independence Day has not arrived.

Candace C. W. Antwine

Board of Education member

The Honorable Candace Antwine a member of the Anne Arundel Board of education addresses the Class of 2019 at Chesapeake Science Point Charter School's graduation commencement Tuesday night.
The Honorable Candace Antwine a member of the Anne Arundel Board of education addresses the Class of 2019 at Chesapeake Science Point Charter School's graduation commencement Tuesday night. (Glenn A. Miller / For The Capital)

Being a Black American on Independence Day and every day means humbled obligation. I am an American!

Within me flows the blood of those driven out and dragged over against their will and all odds. Though they were torched, tortured, divided and murdered, their faith and strength remained unwavering; establishing American democracy and freedom. American soil is nurtured with their blood, sweat and tears.

Their sacrifice, love and foresight forge my fight. In these perilous times, I must apply disciplined enragement and engagement. I carry their torch, divinely guided for the future of America.

This is my country and humbled obligation.

Sandy Bartlett

State delegate

Del. Sandy Bartlett represents Anne Arundel County in the House.
Del. Sandy Bartlett represents Anne Arundel County in the House. (Joshua McKerrow/Capital Gazette)

I celebrated Juneteenth with a greater pride than in previous years. I was happy that many people are learning that the history they have been taught is incomplete.

I will celebrate this Fourth similarly because, alas, the omission of Black Americans in American history is at the forefront of discussion and I have hope.

I have more hope than I have had in years prior. I believe in the success of America and my belief is strengthened when all of its participants are included in its history.

Drake Smith

Board of Education, student member

Meade High senior Drake Smith is the new student member of the county Board of Education.
Meade High senior Drake Smith is the new student member of the county Board of Education. (Nicole Munchel for The Baltimore / Capital Gazette)

This Independence Day has never been for people who look like me.

The meaning of this day has given me the same feeling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had as he sat in that little cell, 57 years ago. “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro.”

Independence from a capitalist society that takes everything and leaves crumbs. Independence from police brutality that squeezes the life out of Black men and destroys families.

Independence from a carceral state that builds prisons for profits. Until we tackle these injustices within society, my “independence” is but a mere figment of my imagination.

Lt. Charles Ravenell

County Police Department, assistant commander of community relations

Lt. Charles Ravenell heads the county police community relations unit.
Lt. Charles Ravenell heads the county police community relations unit. (Courtesy photo)

Independence day for me has generally been a day off from work to socialize with close family. Rarely have I celebrated the Fourth of July for the historical meaning that it represents to the country.

The time in 1776 was a period where I recognize my ancestors were not allowed to participate in the liberties of this country. Approximately 15 years ago I took on Juneteenth as Independence Day. With the current climate of race relations and policing I believe awareness of the struggles of African Americans and building positive relationships is a must.

Unless we confront the disparities that have plagued certain communities we will continue to have these periods of unrest and the presence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The profession of policing is very noble and I am proud to represent my agency and will continue to strive to be a part of the solution by building positive relationships and equity for all.

Advertisement

Joseline Peña-Melnyk

Maryland state delegate

Advertisement
Joseline Pena-Melnyk of College Park represents parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties in the House of Delegates.
Joseline Pena-Melnyk of College Park represents parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties in the House of Delegates. (courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

I am grateful for America and the opportunity it has provided me. I know most Americans feel the same way. When I think about our country today, I see how much further we have to go to live up to those founding ideals.

We have many disparities and divisions. We need to go further to be fair and to provide equal opportunity. We can celebrate America while still recognizing that we have much work to do.

Ed Jackson

Annapolis police chief

From left Chevalla King and Debbie Odum talk with new Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson at the National Night Out event in the Annapolis Gardens community in Annapolis.
From left Chevalla King and Debbie Odum talk with new Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson at the National Night Out event in the Annapolis Gardens community in Annapolis. (Joshua McKerrow/Capital Gazette)

This Independence Day will be different as I reflect on what it means to be a Black American. The Fourth of July, as I’ve grown up calling it, always meant the formation of the United States of America and its liberation from the British Crown. I’ve always simply looked at it and celebrated by way of cookouts and family and friend gatherings.

However, at age 61, and for the first time in my life, I do see it differently through the lens of being Black in America. Aside from the patriotism, I look at it from a different lens.

Being Black during the Fourth of July now means American history. True history on July 4th 1776 when the proclamation was made, most Black people were property of slave owners not celebrants in the new republic. They couldn’t vote, own land, worship freely, and all of the other wonderful freedoms that the new republic had to offer white men.

I would agree that the Declaration of Independence was a special document eloquently written and the birth of one of the best governments, at least structurally, that the world has ever known.

However, Independence Day from a historic perspective is different amid the Black Lives Matter Revolution. It now means that as a Black Man, America still has much work to do.

It must atone for the very diabolical institution of slavery, Jim Crow, and decades of unequal treatment if America is truly to live up to its creed that “All Men are Created Equal.” The Fourth of July now forces me to think about some gains, like being a Black police chief, but also reflect how many Black men are over represented in our prison system.

I now ask myself this very important question figuring Independence Day: Am I really considered a Black American or am I Black in America?

Octavia Brown

Annapolis community Activist:

Octavia Brown, of Annapolis, gives remarks at the Market House. Protesters lead a peaceful march, from the Market House to the State House, in Annapolis to commemorate the life of George Floyd and to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, Tuesday evening.
Octavia Brown, of Annapolis, gives remarks at the Market House. Protesters lead a peaceful march, from the Market House to the State House, in Annapolis to commemorate the life of George Floyd and to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, Tuesday evening. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

From 1619 until present day, Blacks have been held in captivity in this country. Millions of African slave hands built this country under the oppressive and volatile white hand and with the steady cry for freedom.

The abolition of slavery was met with a new form of slavery called “Mass Incarceration.” There are now more Blacks behind bars than ever were in slavery.

The psychological effects of our bondage and captivity are shackled to every fiber of our minds.

Whose independence are we to celebrate? Certainly not ours Thus in the words of Frederick Douglass; “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement