The national holiday known as Independence Day is just around the corner. It’s always celebrated on July 4th with fireworks, flags, and cookouts, but as great of a holiday as the fourth is, I’d prefer celebrating on the second.
Independence Day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence by several of this nation’s earliest and most influential men. The document, written by Thomas Jefferson declaring the United States’ independence from Great Britain, includes one of the most resounding statements in Western civilization, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What isn't often highlighted about the Declaration of Independence is that is was actually voted on by the Continental Congress on July 2nd, 1776 even through the nation’s independence is celebrated on July 4th. But this isn't why I prefer July 2nd over July 4th.
While these men shouted at the British for independence across the Atlantic Ocean, they failed to hear the cries for freedom being shouted at them from across the Mississippi.
July 2nd, 1776
While on July 2nd, 1776 a group of men sought to remove themselves from oppression; to liberate themselves from a kind of bondage; and to establish themselves as free and independent persons, many of them were active participants in a more severe oppression; they were obstacles to a greater liberation; and they were takers of freedoms that should have been experienced by all. When they signed this declaration, backing the statement that “all men are created equal” their intention wasn't to communicate the equality of all men, but only some men. In their acknowledging the self-evident truths of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, they remained willfully blind to fact that these rights were only being acknowledged for some. While these men shouted at the British for independence across the Atlantic Ocean, they failed to hear the cries for freedom being shouted at them from across the Mississippi. Although the principles that guided these men to establish this government gave them freedom for themselves and others who looked and thought like them, these same principles would be Providentially used to give these same rights and freedoms to those who were well outside of their racially limited and sinfully distorted scope. Therefore the independence of the United States is to be celebrated by all peoples who benefit from the government’s acknowledgment of these rights, but in the past, for an extended period of time that was defined by much pain and suffering, not all could celebrate this so-called independence in the same way.
Frederick Douglass, on the 76th anniversary of the nation’s independence stated this, which could also be spoken from the mouths of countless others who had been bought and brought to this nation’s shores without the acknowledgement of their self-evident, unalienable rights and their humanity. Douglass states
Douglass made this statement just 165 years ago, a stone’s throw from the present, historically speaking. Since then, much of America, particularly African-Americans have been playing catch-up concerning the experience of independence that the founders spoke of in the declaration. On the contrary, the experience of independence, when finally felt for many of these Americans-who were slaves and regarded as nothing more than property- was one of independence, not from the oppressive British rule, but from the oppressive fist of those who basked in the sunlight of national independence while using that same sunlight of freedom to burn and destroy the bodies of black people. This is why I prefer to celebrate on July 2nd over July 4th.
July 2nd, 1964
Make no mistake, I’m going to take the day off. I’m going to enjoy a burger and probably hold my son on my shoulders as he excitedly watches fireworks. Many people died so that we could finally experience independence and freedom to this degree - and not just soldiers and servants of this country, but black mothers’ and fathers’, men and women who broke themselves to push us one inch closer to freedom.
Many of these black men and women were present during another July 2nd, when these rights that were initially acknowledged and written into the fabric of this country, were extended to those who this nation so often failed to affirm. On July 2nd, 1964 the Civil Rights Act was established being signed into law by then President Lyndon B. Johnson. In perhaps the most famous photo of the moment, Martin Luther King Jr. is seen standing Just behind President Johnson as he signed the bill into legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a major step in this nation extending equal rights to people of color through outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or sex; encouraging the desegregation of public schools; and applying equal voting procedures to all races,a move that would pave the way for the Voting Rights Act just one year later.
In a televised address just before signing the Civil Rights Act, Johnson quoted the same famous words that Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence, “We believe that all men are created equal…”, but on this July 2nd in 1964, Johnson continued this statement saying,
On July 2, 1776 black people were enslaved, neglected, and had been stripped of their God-given unalienable rights by a young, independent, and racist nation. On July 2, 1964, black people, while continuing on in the fight against the very same racism and discrimination they had always faced, were finally heard, acknowledged, and fought for. Its only been 53 years since that time, which is not very long in the fight for equality, but since that time some progress has been made while even greater progress continues to be pursued. July 1776 gives us reason to celebrate democracy, but July 1964 gives us reason to celebrate our democracy.
From slavery, to reconstruction, to segregation and discrimination, to economic liberation, African-Americans can rejoice now in the freedoms of this nation than ever before. July 2, 1776 gave us no apparent reason for celebration, but July 2, 1964 gave us hope; it gave us recognition that America had never previously extended towards African-Americans.
A Better “July”
The Civil Rights Act of July 2nd, 1964 reflected the intentions of this kingdom more than the intentions of this nation’s founders. It embraced and enforced the God-originating truth that all men are created equal.
Through both of these significant dates, God has been both sovereignly over and in the midst of the sufferings of black people. He’s been in our songs and our stories, our conversions, and in our conversations. He has extended a greater freedom to us in the gospel than this nation ever has, and He has extended this freedom to us freely at a great cost to Himself - sending His Son, Jesus to bear the punishment for our sin and to bear the punishment for the institutional, systemic, discriminatory, and racially charged sins committed against us. He has welcomed us through the cross into His eternally independent, all-powerful, multi-ethnic Kingdom where true peace, joy, and freedom is found. The Civil Rights Act of July 2nd, 1964 reflected the intentions of this kingdom more than the intentions of this nation’s founders. It embraced and enforced the God-originating truth that all men are created equal. It points to the better “July” when peoples will not be physically enslaved or economically discriminated against. It raises up the equality of all people that is greatest displayed in God’s gracious giving of salvation to all kinds of peoples - welcoming them, unifying them, transforming them, and accepting them. This is why I prefer to commemorate the July of 1964 more than the July of 1776.