Frederick Douglass’ July 4th Speech Still Resonates Today

Fireworks will rise into the sky on July 4th as millions of Americans celebrate the birth of our nation and its values of freedom and independence.

But Ted Shaw, professor of law and director of the Center for Civil Rights at UNC-Chapel Hill, says it’s important to remember that July 4th, 1776 did not mark the birth of freedom for African Americans. They and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would remain enslaved for almost a hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

That distinction is the subject of Frederick Douglass’ fiery 1852 speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro.” Shaw and others will be reading the speech at noon on July 4th at the Carrboro Century Center.

“He [Douglass] talked about the fact that white americans—they celebrated freedom, they celebrated independence, they celebrated their country. But for the slave—for African Americans—that was hypocrisy,” Shaw says.

Shaw says Douglass’ speech still resonates with Americans today, even 150 years after the abolition of slavery.

“We still carry this stuff with us,” Shaw says. He points out that since African Americans arrived in what is now the U.S., they have lived 90 percent of the time under either slavery or Jim Crow.

“And yet,” Shaw says, “we have that dishonest discourse that says ‘that’s history, that happened too long ago’—even though we embrace all kinds of things that happened a long time ago, including our Founding Fathers, and the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.”

Shaw points to disproportionate rates of poverty and incarceration, and educational inequalities as part of the continuing legacy that began with slavery. He says Douglass’ message resonates today because people of color are still fighting against the same forces of structural racism and discrimination Douglass spoke out against.

Shaw quotes Douglass: “Frederick Douglass said ‘if there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ He said ‘there is no negro problem,’ in the language of the time. He said the problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough and patriotism enough to live up to their own constitution,” Shaw says. “That’s what I think about on the Fourth of July. I think that’s what all Americans, not only African Americans, ought to think about on the Fourth of July.”

What Is July 4th Really About?

Most of us will celebrate July 4 by taking part in various activities, like parades, picnics, concerts, and watching fireworks, all while outdoors with friends and family.

But as we take the time to enjoy these fun events, it is also important to understand what Independence Day truly stands for. It is a day that represents the moment in American history when the Declaration of Independence was considered to be the next big step in claiming ourselves as our own nation.

Chapel Hillian and veteran of the United States Army, Fred Black, says that the Fourth of July is unique in relation to other similar national holidays, and that it is important to acknowledge what a significant step it was for the United States to celebrate our newfound freedom.

“Independence Day is one of our only real national holidays that was designed to be a celebration,” says Black. “I think we have instilled in our DNA as a nation that this was a day of celebration when we created a new nation. I think we celebrate the Fourth of July as one of those kinds of holidays that is unlike any other.”

Black also discusses his military history and the value that Independence Day had for him and his community during that time in history.

“Fourth of July was just always a big day,” says Black. “There were big events for the community because the community rallied around it, and that was big in the military because it was very parallel to what we as military folks took as an oath: we are going to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Well, we couldn’t have a Constitution until we declared ourselves free.”

In the celebration of Independence Day, Black says that he sees a distinct difference in the way that these national holidays should be observed.

“I think one of the key differences in my mind is Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day celebrate people. The Fourth of July celebrates a concept, that here we were willing to declare ourselves free and independent, and fight to preserve that independence.”

Black also says he encourages that, as we celebrate this Fourth of July, we should remember to stay safe and stay smart.

“Since we are celebrating our independence and our freedom, we shouldn’t do stupid stuff and overindulge,” says Black. “This is the worst day for accidents in our nation’s calendar, and we should conduct ourselves accordingly and not make this a day of national tragedy.”

On July 4, Remembering Our Civil Rights Legacy

For the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, this year’s July 4 festivities come with a somber reflection on our nation’s often-troubling past.

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history and a watershed moment for the civil rights movement. It also continues the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

To mark the occasion, the Town of Chapel Hill hosted a discussion Wednesday on the legacy of the Civil Rights Act, in a packed room in the Chapel Hill Public Library. Gene Nichol and Ted Shaw served as keynote speakers; State Senator Valerie Foushee was among the panelists. (CORRECTION: Foushee was scheduled to be among the panelists, but was unable to attend.)

And on Friday – Independence Day proper – the Town of Carrboro is hosting a public reading of Frederick Douglass’s famous 1852 speech “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro” (also known as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”). Readers will include Valerie Foushee, former State Senator Ellie Kinnaird, and WCHL’s Aaron Keck. It begins at Town Hall at noon and should last about a half hour, as part of the town’s July 4 festivities.

James Williams is the public defender for Orange and Chatham Counties; he too will be among the readers on Friday. Earlier this week he joined Ron Stutts on the Morning News.

Should You Change Your Eastern N.C. July 4 Plans?

National Weather Service meteorologist Kathleen Carroll says Tropical Storm Arthur is on track to becoming the season’s first hurricane by Thursday morning and could affect your weekend plans in eastern North Carolina, if those plans include an early start to the weekend.

“Over the next day or two, it will be moving North towards North Carolina, and we should see some impacts with that beginning late Thursday and then overnight Thursday night,” Carroll says.

***Carroll Spoke with WCHL’s Ron Stutts Wednesday Morning***

However, Carroll says the storm could be out of the way in time for fireworks.

“It definitely will be a rainy and potentially breezy day on Thursday, but it looks like the Fourth of July–at least in the evening hours when everybody will probably be enjoying fireworks and barbeques–current timing has that tropical system moving off to the northeast by the afternoon hours,” Carroll says.

If you’re staying put for fireworks at Kenan Stadium, Carroll says Arthur is unlikely to play a big factor in the Triangle.

“For that area, we may not even see that great of an impact from the system itself,” Carroll says. “Winds really wouldn’t be a whole lot stronger than anything we normally see, because the system’s expected to stay closer to the coast. We will probably see a bit more rain, but that will be, in part, due to a frontal system that’s going to be approaching kind of sandwiched between the tropical system off the coast.”

For the latest forecast and tropical storm track, click here.

Gas Prices Steady in NC

Gas prices have risen steadily nationally in the past twelve days, but fortunately for North Carolinians, prices are still expected to remain stable.

Public Relations Manager of AAA Carolinas Tiffany Wright says there has actually been a slight trend during the month of June showing a decrease in prices at North Carolina pumps.

“A lot of folks are thinking that prices are going up but they really haven’t in North Carolina as a whole, they have been steady.”

With ISIS insurgents’ most recent attack on Iraq’s largest oil refinery, Americans have begun to attribute the spike in prices to the crisis overseas. However, Wright assures that there should be between no more than a five to ten cent gasoline price increase statewide this summer.

“There is reason and concern for drivers to have a nervous wallet,” Wright said. “With so much uncertainty and the unknown out there in Iraq, it does have some feeling there for concern. But as of right now, (prices) really are steady.”

Wright also says this Independence Day holiday has an expected two percent increase in travel nationwide.

Rockets’ Red Glare Caps July 4 In Chapel Hill

Fireworks at Kenan. (Photo by Susan Murray.)

CHAPEL HILL – Thousands of local residents turned out at Kenan Stadium Thursday night for another memorable July 4 fireworks display.

Ron Stutts emceed the event, put on by the Town of Chapel Hill in conjunction with numerous local businesses and organizations. Among the attendees were Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, new UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, and Chapel Hill Town Council member Sally Greene.

“It’s a great time to take some time out to enjoy some fellowship and fireworks,” Greene said. “I’ve got my son and my husband here with me, and we’re really enjoying it.”

After a week marred by torrential downpours, the rain held off all night — save for a brief sprinkle right before the fireworks got under way.

But the rain could not stop the show on Thursday; in fact, WCHL News Director Ran Northam said it only got the crowd that much more excited.

“(There was) a little tiny bit of a sprinkle just before the fireworks went off — that was greeted by many, many cheers,” he said shortly after the show began. “People (are) loving it now.”

The fireworks got underway right on schedule at 9:30, following an evening of entertainment featuring music from Liquid Pleasure and a watermelon-eating contest sponsored by DSI Comedy.

The show itself was not without incident: “One fire official did have to go down and put out a little bit of a fire there at the end,” Northam said. “There were a couple small fires there.”

And attendees were also surprised by another round of fireworks that started up after the 25-minute show appeared to reach its end. That second round lasted several more minutes, even as the lights in Kenan had already come back on.

Still, the show as a whole was an unqualified success — especially for new Chancellor Folt, who’s still getting oriented to Chapel Hill in her first week on the job.

“It’s been great,” she said of her first days in Chapel Hill. “I’ve just been meeting so many people, and everyone’s friendly — I keep hearing what a friendly place (Chapel Hill) is, and it’s absolutely true.”

More than the fireworks and the camaraderie, though, July 4 is a day to celebrate America — and in particular the Declaration of Independence, a document that not only established the U.S. as a distinct nation, but also expressed the fundamental values on which it would seek to build itself.

And Sally Greene says this year is especially noteworthy in that regard.

“This is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,” she says. “Abraham Lincoln gave an address for the ages when he gave the Gettysburg Address — and what he was doing there was cementing the Declaration as the founding document which the Constitution must interpret…

“He really was reinforcing the Declaration of Independence as the founding document that would bring forth all of our rights and ensure us those liberties to this day. So it’s a time to remember that — a time to remember what’s fundamental about our democracy, and a time to stand up and fight for it.”

The Kenan Stadium fireworks show is a longstanding annual event—but 2013 marks its second year back, after budget cuts forced the town to cancel it in 2011.

Hundreds Gather for Carrboro’s Independence Day Celebration

Photo courtesy of David Gellatly

CARRBORO – Residents from all over gathered on West Main Street for Carrboro’s July 4 Celebration Thursday.

Local residents, like Bob Morgan, talked about what they love about Independence Day in their town.

“Come and sit on the front lawn, listen to music and watch all the kids have fun,” said Morgan.

There were two main stages by CarrboroTown Hall, where local musicians performed for the crowds. The events were emceed by WCHL’s own Ron Stutts. Dane Hair, another local resident, explained what makes the day nice for her and her friends.

“I just like the relaxed atmosphere and family fun,” said Hair.

Next to the main music stage and throughout the town, there were “fun zones” set up with bouncing castles, art contests and food trucks selling ice cream and other summertime delights. Local parent, Alex Trishe, said the setting was perfect for all ages if you have kids.

“It’s great for the family. I’ve got two little boys and they love being out and around with everybody else,” said Trishe.

The festivities even attracted residents from outside the town, like Mebane resident Peter Sticksel

“It’s a historical moment for me because I’m from Germany and I love history and Carrboro has a lot of history,” said Sticksel.

Overall, attendees of the July 4 festivities like local parent, Lizzy Lang, said they pleased by the town’s event.

“I’ve lived all over the country and Carrboro’s the most interesting, cool, unique town I’ve ever lived in,” says Lizzy Lang, another local parent.

July 4 events continue tonight with Chapel Hill’s fireworks show at Kenan Stadium, starting at 7:00 p.m.