The question was asked, “How do I feel about the Fourth of July?” That is a great question and would be a most interesting conversation from a historian, a Black historian’s point of view especially with all that is going on in relation to the hate crimes, the shootings, the up scaled violence during this time when it is so important that we hang together to survive this pandemic and for the very sake of human kindness. But, there is something inside that is pulling me to go another way. Believe me, I am not belittling or saying that the things we are experiencing are not important or does not need addressing by all of us caring and human beings, no way. I am saying that right now, I’d like to save that discussion for another day, because my Spirit is pulling me another direction…leading me to speak of a time before I was so involved in the history of my people; of a time before I had heard of and subsequently read Frederick Douglass’ speech about the America’s Fourth of July (Independence Day) at the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society Meeting in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852. In that speech, Douglass addresses the view of this holiday from a slave’s perspective.
See, already, I am straining against the still small voice that is telling me to go to a lighter time.
But I am going to listen to that Spirit within and share with you, Dear Reader, how we used to celebrate the Fourth of July, when I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia.
We didn’t have much, in fact, by all standards, we were poor, but we never ‘knew’ it. My mom could stretch a dollar bill and we always had food to eat and clothes for school. And summertime was just for us kids. After our chores we would play out all day in the street with our friends until curfew, yes, I said curfew. Ninety-eight degrees in Olean and ninety-eight degrees in Philadelphia has a little bit different feel. It is hot in the city. H. O. T. And back in the forties, no air conditioners. In my neighborhood, just about every house had two or three kids, all around the same age. There was an empty lot across from my and the three row houses on either side of ours where we would play stick ball, dodge ball, and along the street: hop-scotch, Double Dutch rope jumping and Olly Olly Oxen Free. Every adult knew all of us kids’ names.
About once or twice a week, one of the older boys would use a wrench and open the fire plug and, WHOOSH. All of a sudden, cold water. And someone would entwine their fingers in front of the plug’s mouth and we’d have a huge shower spray of refreshing ice water to run and play in…until the police came and shut it off.
Many weekends and especially on the third or fifth of July (Daddy never drove on holidays) our whole family (Mom, Dad, me and my three sisters and my brother) would pile into Dad’s Nash and off we’d go to Coney Island or Atlantic City. I remember it being so hot (no car air conditioner) that the road ahead looked like the cars ahead of us were sailing on a wavy mirrored lake. We could actually see the heat rising. But we paid that no never mind. It was so worth it to play all day on the sand and in the water and to eat corn on the cob and hot dogs…and coming home happy and tired.
When the negative ‘ways of the world’ comes crushing down on me, I think about those early days. It tightens my resolve to do my very best to make the world a better place for those coming up. I once heard a speaker say that we (referring to leaders/adults) “set the table that our children (the following generations) will sit at.”
Aways, with love,
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