An Introspective Look at American Independence
By LaKeshia Myers
For me, America’s Independence Day has always been an interesting confluence of mixed emotions. As a child, the day was mainly consumed with family reunions, fireworks, and barbecue but as I grew older, I began to fully appreciate and understand the nuanced plight of the American colonists. My spirit was ever so perplexed by the notion that American colonists actively protested British tyranny and sought their freedom, yet allowed the perverse institution of slavery to exist and serve as the economic basis of all commerce on colonial soil.
As a young child, I read the story of Crispus Attucks, the African American stevedore who was the first to die in the Boston Massacre. It is unknown whether Attucks escaped slavery or if he was born a member of Boston’s free negro community, but his occupation was one that granted him exclusive access to revolutionary-era thoughts and conversations.
I can only wonder if Attucks heard the news that British army officers were granting both enslaved and free black people freedom if they chose to fight in the army? Would his allegiance have been different? This was most definitely a time of both unrest and opportunity for blacks during the revolutionary war era—join the loyalists or the support the colonists? Under whose leadership would their lives be better?
Historically, we know that England kept their promise to those who served them during the time of war. Their names and stories were listed in what is known as The Book of Negroes. These African American immigrants were considered free people and were relocated to Nova Scotia where they built and sustained their own community. Their descendants are still found in Canada today where black Nova Scotians have continued to flourish and enrich Canadian culture.
Furthermore, England outlawed the institution of slavery in 1833, thirty-two years before the United States.
As perplexing as this may be, the American colonists pressed forward toward independence from Great Britain. Extolling their beliefs in the Declaration of Independence, where they stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Utilizing the American concept of mass resistance and violence toward government and authority the colonists shed blood over these founding principles, while simultaneously denying them to blacks bound in servitude and those living in legal limbo regarding their citizenship status.
As I reflect on the Declaration of Independence today, I can only think of those in bondage on the southern border. Just as our black forebears lived in fear and captivity so do these immigrants. Those who came to the United States seeking refuge and asylum. Only this time, the American colonists are turning a blind eye to those in need. They are ignoring their founding principles, and denying those who seek it a better quality of life, liberty from the chaos of their home country, and denying them the opportunity to pursue happiness in the land of the free.
I guess some truths we hold aren’t always so evident; and are dependent on the lens in which we choose to see.