15 Days: A Poignant 4th

At the Liberty Bell, July 3rd at 4:30 pm. Avenging the Ancestors Coalition – ATAC – pays tribute to the nine enslaved Africans owned by George and Martha Washington. In fact, the Washingtons owned hundreds of slaves and brought nine to Philadelphia, where slavery had been outlawed.  They were: Oney Judge, Hercules, Austin, Moll, Richmond, Christopher Sheels, Giles, Paris, and Joe Richardson.

ATAC’s mock funeral is staged to posthumously free the enslaved from bondage. And what better a place to achieve a belated independence than the archeological site of the President’s House, located at 6th and Market streets, a stone’s throw away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

After several years of advocacy, ATAC (with others) succeeded in convincing the National Park Service, Independence National Historical Park and the City of Philadelphia that a memorial to Washington’s slaves is a necessary addition to the President’s House site. In 2008, this long-awaited feature will be built.

Frederick Douglass would have appreciated this moment. On July 5th, 1852, he spoke out against the idea of Independence Day. Addressing an audience in Rochester, New York, Douglass sought to rectify the problem:

“The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

“Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — 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 the United States, at this very hour.”

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