Independence and freedom
7/4/2019, 6 a.m.
As we celebrate the Fourth of July and America’s birth through its declaring independence from the British 243 years ago, we are reminded about the lessons of freedom and the centuries-long efforts by black people in this nation to secure the promise of freedom, liberty and equality.
The struggle for freedom for black people in America is personified by James Armistead Lafayette, an enslaved man born in 1748 in New Kent County who worked as a spy for the colonists during the Revolutionary War.
Despite the British forces’ promises of freedom to any black person who helped subdue the colonists’ uprising, Lafayette put his life in danger gathering information from the British that he turned over to the Marquis de Lafayette, a French military officer commanding American troops. His espionage led to the successful victory of the Americans under the marquis and Gen. George Washington at Yorktown in 1781, which paved the way for the British govern- ment’s negotiation to end the war.
Even with this black man’s effort to help America gain its independence, James Armistead Lafayette was sent back into slavery. Six years later, in 1787, he gained his freedom from a white owner, William Armistead, when, with the advocacy of the Marquis de Lafayette, the Virginia legislature paid for his freedom.
Black men — and women — have fought for this nation in every war since the nation’s founding, including the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on because we believe in the promise penned in the Declaration of Independence — that all people are created equal and that we are all endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The question remains, however: When is America going to honor that promise to African-Americans, Native Americans and other people of color?
This Independence Day, we offer for our readers’ consideration a poem by Langston Hughes.
Beaumont to Detroit: 1943
Looky here, America What you done done — Let things drift Until the riots come.
Now your policemen Let your mobs run free I reckon you don’t care Nothing about me.
You tell me that hitler Is a mighty bad man. I guess he took lessons From the ku klux klan.
You tell me mussolini’s
Got an evil heart.
Well, it mus-a been in Beaumont That he had his start —
Cause everything that hitler And mussolini do, Negroes get the same Treatment from you.
You jim crowed me
Before hitler rose to power — And you’re STILL jim crowing me Right now, this very hour.
Yet you say we’re fighting For democracy.
Then why don’t democracy Include me?
I ask you this question
Cause I want to know
How long I got to fight
BOTH HITLER — AND JIM CROW.