The great comedian Chris Rock once stated the following, “If you’re black, you got to look at America a little bit different. You got to look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college, but who molested you.” Rock succinctly explains the foremost dilemma of being Black in America; a nation that simultaneously presents African-Americans with glimpses of good and never-ending reminders of prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
Despite this peculiar position of being “free” in a nation that enslaved our ancestors, African-Americans have miraculously proven to be the vessels that memorable moments of what this nation was created to stand for are frequently communicated.
I am certain that you have seen Star Swain, a 34-year-old assistant principal from Tallahassee, Florida perform a soulful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” in front of the Lincoln Memorial that reminds of Marian Anderson’s rendition in 1939 of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the same location. The fact that a descendant of enslaved, exploited, and beaten Africans would be the very vessel that such a beautiful rendition of one of this nation’s most symbolic songs says so much about the perseverance of African-American hopes and dreams.
Despite historically being used as the mules from which this nation’s initial wealth was created via ‘cash crops’ such as tobacco, sugar, and ‘King cotton’, the vast majority of enslaved Africans found a way to remain optimistic regarding what he future held for them. Even in moments of physical rebellion such as Nat Turner’s Southampton, Virginia, African-Americans display their desire for one of the foundational pillars of America, Freedom.
I hope that on this vaunted day of “Independence” for this nation called America that African-Americans take a few moments to remember our, not necessarily America’s, ‘Founding Fathers’. Names such as Olaudah Equiano, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel and Nannie Prosser, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, E.D. Nixon, Asa Philip Randolph, James Baldwin, and the list goes on and on, must be integrated into a celebration of our tenuous independence. We must continue to find ways to strive for freedom, without forgetting our dark past.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III