What, to the American slave, is the 4th of July?

Frederick Douglass

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

-Frederick Douglas 

What, to the American slave, is the 4th of July? Frederick Douglass answered this question on July 5, 1852 in his speech commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  To him, Americans could not in good faith memorialize the ideals of freedom, democracy and equality and at the same time legalize chattel slavery in America.  Douglass, an abolitionist and former slave, deplored an America divided into half free and half slaves.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

― Elie Wiesel

The Civil War led to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (abolished slavery, except as punishment for crimes), Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteed due process and equal protection under the law) and Fifteenth Amendment (secured voting rights for black men) which gave freed slaves the civil rights to transform their American Nightmare into an American Dream.

Immediately, southern states vehemently responded to these amendments and created black codes which later became Jim Crow laws to force blacks back into slavery . Historically, these laws denied blacks full inclusion into American life until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.  Today, the Prison Industrial Complex hides the negative impacts of drug and immigration laws that criminalize the poor and justify forced labor- slavery by another name.

SLAVERY By Another Name

“Slavery by Another Name is a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. It was a system in which men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters. Tolerated by both the North and South, forced labor lasted well into the 20th century.” (Slavery By Another Name)

What, to the American prisoner, is the 4th July?

To the modern slave (prisoner) the veil of American patriotism conceals the crimes against persons denied their civil and human rights because they were formerly incarcerated. (Read more below about Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim CrowFormerly incarcerated persons witness America’s elaborate parades and listen to vain speeches about freedom while they remain ineligible for jobs (living wage), housing (owning a home) and financial aid (education) on the Fourth of July.  The recidivism in jails and prisons can be attributed to the rejection, hypocrisy, silence and ultimately the indifference experienced by those who are not free.

The New Jim CrowThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander “Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.” (click title above for PBS Interview)