I have overwhelmingly fond memories of the Fourth of July from my childhood. They were filled with the family and community that were part of my life growing up in a small New England town. As I grew, I thought more deeply about the holiday’s meaning, particularly questions about how we were living out the vision we celebrated, and how we were failing it.
While the failures have always been there, this year they are receiving increased attention and, it seems, provoking greater review. This gives me hope. We cannot fix what we have not taken time to understand.
Many voices appropriate to this moment are out there and I have benefited from reading and listening to diverse expressions. I hope you will too, and I will not pretend that I have something to add to the larger societal questions.
My thoughts this morning are more personal. They are about my role as a white grandmother with four, also white, grandsons. What do I hope they will remember about the Fourth of July? I guess my hope would be that they experience it as an annual re-commitment to the idea of freedom… for all!
At New Year’s, we are prompted to look both backward and forward in our personal lives. We assess the good, and the bad, and everything in between, of the year past. We look ahead to what is possible. We strive to begin again. While resolutions often go astray, we have also seen the reflections yield positive results.
Perhaps the Fourth of July can come to be a day in which Americans look at their past… the good, and the bad, and everything in between. Maybe it can serve as a reminder of the vision, the nation we want to be, but are not yet. Maybe we can recommit ourselves, personally and collectively, to change and transformation.
To close, I encourage you to read some of the excellent analysis and editorials that mark this moment. Here though, with gratitude to their creators, I offer just a bit of perspective from history and the arts for your reflection.
- Five young descendants of Frederick Douglass read and respond to excerpts of his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (7:00, has link to full text of original speech) The speech was delivered July 5, 1852.
- James Earl Jones reading the same speech. (7:14)
- For a contemporary update, Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton cast) asks “What to My People is the Fourth of July?” (2:18) Posted by Movement For Black Lives, July 2, 2020.
- Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes (1901–1967) recited by Danez Smith. (5:04) (Find poem text here.) The poem was written in 1936.