People sit by the Tidal Basin at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., to watch the annual fireworks display on July 4, 2023. (Juan Benn Jr./The Washington Informer)
People sit by the Tidal Basin at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., to watch the annual fireworks display on July 4, 2023. (Juan Benn Jr./The Washington Informer)

While many Americans will be celebrating America’s Independence Day with backyard barbecues and fireworks, Anacostia resident Faenita Dilworth will be opting out of all the July 4 pomp and circumstance.

“I do not [celebrate the Fourth],” Dilworth, a life coach and trainer, told The Informer. “[The day] is very much about independence, and I haven’t seen Black people have full independence and full freedom in this country. That’s why I don’t celebrate it, and I never have.”

Independence Day acknowledges the United States’ secession from Great Britain, which freed early American settlers from the monarchy’s taxes and control on July 4, 1776. However, many Black Washingtonians and African Americans nationwide believe that their fight for freedom from oppressive powers is ongoing. 

“I don’t feel very free,” said Moniquea, a District resident standing outside of Busboys and Poets on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, who did not offer her last name.

A Longtime Question of True Freedom

, a cross-cultural marketing research company,  40% of Black Americans said they do not celebrate the Fourth of July.

Spectators gather on the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., to watch the annual fireworks display on July 4, 2023. (Juan Benn Jr./The Washington Informer)
Spectators gather on the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., to watch the annual fireworks display on July 4, 2023. (Juan Benn Jr./The Washington Informer)

Ambivalent feelings around the holiday have been pervasive within the Black community since the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. 

Derrick Spires, an associate professor of Literatures in English at Cornell University, told the that Black people navigated a “national double-speak”— white Americans celebrated their own freedom, while dehumanizing and enslaving African people and displacing generations of Native Americans. 

Three quarters of a century after the first Fourth of July celebrations were recorded in Philadelphia, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York, entitled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

In it, he admonished the United States for its hypocritical celebrations for freedom. 

“To him, your celebration is a sham,” said Douglass. “Your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery… a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” 

Caveats in Celebrating the Fourth

While some Washingtonians explained they technically don’t celebrate the Fourth of July, they also use the day to gather with loved ones.

“We don’t celebrate it, but we celebrate it,” said Briana Hunts. “I use this as a form of a way for me and my family to get together and create memories though that day.”

Hunts’ experience reflects that of many Black Americans, inside and outside of the District, who spend the day convening with family–not to celebrate the Fourth of July, but, rather, observe the national holiday. 

Some Black Washingtonians, however, would rather celebrate a day that honors their history and live experiences in this country. And for many, Juneteenth has filled that gap.

The holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom, and President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021.

“I celebrate Juneteenth,” said Moniquea. “And then on the Fourth of July, go to work.”

Juan Benn Jr. is a summer intern with The Washington Informer and a 2024 Chevrolet Discover the Unexpected Fellow. Currently based in Washington, D.C., Juan is pursuing a B.A. in Media, Journalism, and...

Harrison C. Buck is a summer intern with The Washington Informer and a 2024 Chevrolet Discover the Unexpected Fellow. His passion for journalism is evident through his contributions to Morehouse College's...

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