Lecrae created a bit of a firestorm on twitter when he posted this picture with the caption:
“My ancestors on the fourth of July 1776”
This post caused a bit of an uproar because Lecrae is supposed to be the one rapper all evangelicals can love. Many were hurt, but for me this was not at all surprising. This picture is just another form of a post that comes up quite often on my social media feed on the 4th of July.
In the past, Frederick Douglas has been the patron saint of “woke fourth of July.” People love to recall that powerful speech he gave on July 5, 1852. It is popularly known as, “What to a slave is the fourth of July.” In it Douglas wrote:
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.—The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.
Douglas’s point was straightforward. To the descendants of the slaves, the fourth of July reminded them of the freedom they did not have in 1776.
But many wonder why people feel the need to mention this now when slavery is over and America seems to have made so much progress? Lecrae’s post (and others) appear to be motivated by two realities. First, they want to challenge simple narratives in which our founding fathers were saints who built America upon principles of freedom and equality. This is a false, or at least incomplete, telling of our story. Our founding fathers, for all the good they did, were flawed. It should not be controversial to find it somewhat problematic that they declared that all men were created equal while at the same time owning their fellow brothers and sisters. On a day dedicated to memory is it really improper to remember the whole story? The second reason people post pictures like the one above is to remind Americans that despite the fact that we have made progress there is still work to do. Put differently, folks speak about slavery on the fourth of July to bring to mind the fact that America will only be truly American when there is real liberty and justice for all.