This year the Fourth of July falls on a Tuesday, so the Wayne Township Trustee Office will be open Monday, the 3rd and then closed the following day for the holiday. Unlike many federal holidays that are observed on the nearest Monday, the Fourth is always celebrated on the actual day, wherever it falls in the week. As I was thinking about that it occurred to me that maybe that has to do with the fact that this is the only American holiday known by its date—July 4th, and it would be strange to say that ‘this year the Fourth of July is on July 3rd’!
The holiday is also known as American Independence Day and is a celebration of when our nation’s founders decided to break free from being colonies of Great Britain. “On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, setting the thirteen colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation,” from the U.S. Census Bureau. “This most American of holidays is marked with typical festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues across the country.”
Here in Indiana many people travel to the lake to watch fireworks reflecting off the waters. Others celebrate in one of our great city parks, at the ball diamond or in their own backyard. Wherever it happens, it’s a relaxing and festive day when we dress in our red, white and blue and, enjoy a day off work in the summer weather like the rest of our fellow citizens.
One friend of mine who hails from Massachusetts told me about a different kind of Independence Day celebration held at many parks across New England. There people hold public readings of a great speech by Frederick Douglass called “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” These readings are followed by community discussions about the speech.
Douglass originally gave this speech in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, and this year marks its 165th anniversary. There is sure to be lots of interest and camaraderie at those community gatherings.
In 1852, slavery was still legal in large parts of the United States, and Frederick Douglass, an African-American, an abolitionist and a great orator had been asked to give a speech about Independence Day. It was not lost on him that, for his people, the Fourth of July did not carry the same meaning as it did for the white people of this nation. For many African-Americans freedom from slavery would not come for another decade and with the fighting of a great Civil War.
As some people say, ‘freedom isn’t free’ and in his speech Douglass recognized the price and the courage it took in 1776 for the founders to go after freedom for their country. He congratulated those Americans on their hard-won independence, “The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history-the very ringbolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.” But Douglass said, too, that it would take continual struggle and cost before all Americans found true freedom through equality.
I see all around me even today that we continue to need courage to keep and protect our freedoms. Douglass’ words inspire me and make me appreciate what I have as an American. This year I’ll celebrate my good fortune with a little time off, a hopefully sunny day, and some exciting fireworks come the night.
Happy Fourth of July!
Richard A. Stevenson, Sr.
Wayne Township Trustee
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