I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn that it is dangerous to copy the example of nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.
— Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, former enslaved person, Washington, D.C. resident, "The Lion of Anacostia", July 4, 1852
Frederick Douglass was right — the Fourth of July was never meant for Black people.
Yet we took it and made it our own anyway. The celebration of Independence Day in my old neighborhood of Eckington in northeast Washington, D.C. in 2013 is a metaphor that represents how Black people have managed to survive and thrive in a society that has been, by turns, indifferent and actively hostile to Black life.
That particular brand of adaptation and ability to celebrate in the face of innumerable odds is a kind of grace.
An excerpt of this series was published in Black Girl in Om Issue 005: Liberation, July 2015