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July 4th has been long celebrated for its patriotic nostalgia and while some can embrace America’s Independence Day unconditionally, others look beyond the façade and see the US for what it is, not what it aspires to become.
Across America, the legacy of Black Wall Street has been systemically demolished and before that we were nefariously captured, transported like cargo, generically renamed, savagely raped and brutalized all while forced under penalty of death to work (for free) for hundreds of years. After that, many of us were “reconstructed,” uprooted and lynched. Since then, attacks on Black life have continued from police brutality, gentrification, food deserts, voting rights, school book, redistricting efforts and much more.
There has never been a millisecond of true freedom in America for Black people.
Today, the fight for reparations continues on behalf of our ancestors who gave their blood, sweat, tears and lives to build a country for racists who had the audacity to call them lazy.
Like America, the 4th of July has an untold story of its own.
On July 4th, 1910, Black boxing legend Jack Johnson would go on to defeat the Great White Hope Jim Jeffries in a convincing ass-whupping for the heavyweight championship of the world. Dubbed “The Fight of The Century,” $50 was all you needed to enjoy a ringside seat in Reno, Nevada to watch what many considered to be an even fight going in. However, once it was clear Johnson would win in dominating fashion, many White ringside fans began antagonizing Johnson, predictably calling him the n-word, and after he was declared the victor, they attempted to storm the ring and attack him.
Immediately afterwards, race riots broke out all over America as news of Johnson’s victory spread. The dead were overwhelmingly Black, and the violence precipitated calls to ban boxing in the United States. As the first Black man to conquer an American sport in such brazen fashion, Johnson was hated by many Whites and they figured since they couldn’t hurt him, they would hurt anyone who looked like him.
When I think of July 4th, I’m often reminded of a little-known article named “A Word to the Black Man” published by the Los Angeles Times two days after Johnson won the title from Jeffries. It read in part:
Do not point your nose too high. Do not swell your chest too much. Do not boast too loudly. Do not be puffed up. Let not your ambitions be inordinate or take a wrong direction. Let no treasured resentments rise up and spill over. Remember you have done nothing at all. You are just the same member of society today you were last week. Your place in the world is just what it was. You are on no higher plane, deserve no new consideration, and will get none. You will be treated on your personal merits in the future as in the past. No man will think a bit higher of you because your complexion is the same as that of the victor at Reno. That triumph is the personal asset of Arthur Johnson, a negro to be sure, but not the particular person who stands in your own shoes.”
Cities around the nation, including Houston, New York, St. Louis, Omaha, New Orleans, Little Rock, and Los Angeles, erupted in violence aimed at anyone with Black skin.
According to Timeline, the day after, newspapers accounted “One man was shot in Arkansas, two negroes were killed at Lake Providence, La.; one negro was killed at Mounds, Ill., and a negro fatally wounded in Roundeye, Va.,” reported one local newspaper.
In Manhattan’s San Juan Hill neighborhood, a mob set fire to a Black tenement, while blocking the doorway to prevent the occupants’ escape.
A report from Houston read, “Charles Williams, a negro fight enthusiast, had his throat slashed from ear to ear on a streetcar by a white man, having announced too vociferously his appreciation of Jack Johnson’s victory in Reno.”
As Black folks were in these streets celebrating one of our own accomplishing the impossible, there were then and have always been racists Whites ready to hate on our happiness, extinguish our elation, and mindlessly murder.
Jack Johnson’s July 4th victory is emblematic of America then and now.
From 1910 to 2022, if sporting events on July 4th have taught us anything, it’s that it’s much easier to sing the Star Spangled Banner’s first two stanzas and omit the third. It appears they believe if racism isn’t acknowledged, it cease to exists. Yet much like cancer cells left untreated, racism has continued to metastasize throughout our nation discriminately harming those in its deadly path.
Nonetheless, today sports fans across the country will remove their hats, cross their hearts, and stand to sing our country’s anthem as if things are different now when we see time and again they clearly are not.
A word to the those who will surely cheer and woo on this July 4th while proclaiming America to be the greatest nation on earth — do not point your nose too high.