Editor’s Note: In two stories, Free Press is exploring the thoughts of several leaders of the Black Lives Matter, Oklahoma organization on the anniversary weekend of the rally in 2016. For this report, we asked some of the leaders for their views on Independence Day.
Rev. Jesse Jackson is from a patriotic African-American family, but is not afraid to raise serious questions about American culture.
The pastor of the majority black East Sixth Street Christian Church says his parents wear red, white and blue and fly the flag on every Independence Day.
His two brothers are veterans and quite patriotic.
“I have veterans that are a part of the congregation and many of us grew up celebrating the Fourth of July – proud of our nation, proud to be Americans,” said Jackson.
The east side Oklahoma City pastor has talked to many residents of neighborhoods that surround his church from all economic levels and political viewpoints.
They have a broad spectrum of experience with predominantly white culture, government and the police, not all of it positive.
And so, he understands other black people who have mixed emotions toward Independence Day, or the Fourth of July each year.
“There’s always been ambivalence with people of color in this nation, from the founding with the treatment of indigenous people, and then black and brown people,” said Jackson. “July 4, 1776, my ancestors were toiling away in the fields.”
“It was not a day of celebration in that sense.”
He pointed out that Thomas Jefferson wrote high ideals into the Declaration of Independence.
But, Jefferson owned over 600 slaves through the course of his life freeing only two and granting five more freedom in his will.
“The words are poetic. The words are great,” said Jackson. “But it’s the actions in this nation that have always made it somewhat hypocritical.”
Jackson said he sees especially the younger generation of black people questioning the blatant patriotism of July Fourth as they hear whites, and now even the president, voicing openly hostile attitudes and intentions toward fellow citizens who are black and brown.
And that’s why he often engages in public speech that calls out the still-harsh attitudes of white privilege.
It’s why he spoke at the Black Lives Matter rally in Oklahoma City.
“I have a vested interest in this nation being the very best that it can be,” said Jackson. “Anything that I do, anything that I say is not to sabotage anything in this nation. It’s to make this nation better.”
Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson (no relation to this reporter) is the executive director of Black Lives Matter, Oklahoma, the organization that coordinated the 2016 Black Lives Matter Rally.
Being an activist first, Dickerson was more direct about the crossed meanings of Independence Day July 4 in a written communication with Free Press.
Having served in the U.S. Army Reserves has brought mixed meanings for her.
“We have those of us like myself … who by choice took an oath and served a country that doesn’t seem to protect me back. There is no real intent to protect POC from enemies foreign and especially not domestic!”
“There is enormous apathy in various communities of color concerning the Fourth of July,” said Dickerson. “For those with black skin, most realize this day had very little, if anything to do with us. It certainly didn’t attribute to our independence.”
She said that now, for a growing number of black people, Juneteeth, on June 19 is the more significant celebration.
Juneteenth began as a commemoration of the U.S. Army taking control of Texas, a Confederate slave state, at the end of the Civil War, June 19, 1865.
The occupying general then declared all slaves free in Texas.
In Texas, Oklahoma, and surrounding states the day has had more significance because of the proximity to the original event.
But in recent years it has spread as a more general alternate to the traditional Independence Day July 4.
The commemoration now includes Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War.
The theft of Native American lands and their abuse, coupled with continued abuse of black people even after the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery has created animosity, Dickerson said.
“Celebrating the Red White and Blue comes at more of a cost in Black skin, in spite of the fact that the country was built and sustained by those who look like me,” said Dickerson.
Like so many people from the African-American culture, Dickerson wants to claim America and all it stands for, but it is a struggle.
“I am grateful to be in America, and I surely realize the privilege of being a citizen in comparison to other countries. But sometimes the pride of being an American I hoped to feel is lackluster.”
Cameron Brewer is only 25 years old and already in a position of leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement.
He is the vice president of Black Lives Matter chapter in Oklahoma City and assistant executive director for Black Lives Matter, Oklahoma.
The ambivalence toward Independence Day of his generation of black citizens was immediately recognizable when Free Press talked with him over the phone.
“I like to be hopeful on Independence Day, but it’s also a stark reminder of the facts of life,” said Brewer. “For people like me, we still don’t have access to the full privileges of the country.”
He was careful to acknowledge that “things have gotten better in terms of equality,” but there is still “a lot of inequity.
“There is still blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia that certainly create a divide,” said Brewer. “It keeps folks of certain identities from access to a full range of what other people in this country have. And that’s not a good thing.”