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Throughout the years we examined, which were 1883-1922, the columns of the Washington Bee display African Americans struggling to find the place Fourth of July had in their community. The newspaper, based in Washington D.C. and extending into other East Coast cities, influenced many of its articles because of the political atmosphere of where the paper was distributed. Some themes found in the paper included meeting places and celebrations in churches such as in Mt. Horeb Church where a Fourth of July feast was held. Many communities held dinners for all neighbors to join in and relish in a year well spent. For example, in 1886, “The Fourth of July was-joyously spent in this community on Monday last; blackberries, watermelons, cake and cream, and other delicacies were served to the children during the day, and in the evening,the older persons largely shared the benefits of the day.” Many people took excursions on the Fourth of July, and advertisements promoted railroad rides and speakers traveling the country to speak on the holiday.
Another regular theme was the indecision between celebrating Fourth of July or Emancipation Day in Washington D.C. African American leaders had all had different advice on when to celebrate African American freedom. One article advocating for celebrating January 1, when every slave in America was freed, while another favored dates when slaves were freed in their home states. Many articles pointed out that the Fourth reminds African Americans that America was still racist and hypocritical and dismissive to the changes legislation had made in recent times. One article from a July 5,1902 issue, “[t]he fourth brought with it its usual noise, excursions, casualties, and other evidence of patriotism, but has left behind it a long train of duties unperformed and promises unkept,” could have represented the feelings of many people of color in America during this time period.
One significant article that was found during our research was published on July 5, 1902, titled ‘The Fourth of July’. The author argues that, even with the addition of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, conditions for people of color in America are still subpar, and that not enough is being done by the general public to fix these issues. He cites the fact that slavery still exists in the Philippines, and mentions that people of color are only left to “Hope! Hope! Hope!” for the general public to realize the hardships African Americans face everyday. It is interesting to note, however, that the author ends this article with the following quote: “Notwithstanding all, we join the patriotic processions and say to all Americans God’s speed!” This final sentence could possibly be a sign of appeasing those he may potentially offend; it could also represent his outward feelings towards the holiday.
In 1896 an article titled “Our National Jubilee” was in support of the celebration of the Fourth of July. The author argues that the Founding Fathers declared Independence for all of America, regardless of race and that God gave this country to everyone . Everyone needs to participate in this holiday because, he insists, because all have equal rights and obligations. This is significant because it shows that some African Americans supported the holiday and still saw the Declaration of Independence as a document that would ensure their freedom, and that the United States needed to be unified to be successful. However, not all African Americans shared this view, and some saw it as a white man’s holiday that symbolized only the hypocrisy of America and representing the lack of freedom for African Americans. This article further emphasizes the continued uncertainty of how and why African Americans should celebrate the Fourth of July.