4th of July… Independence Day –
I’ve thought about what to write in honor of this national holiday and my options have gone back and forth between the recounting some of my favorite memories and taking a step back to really understand what I’m celebrating as an American on the 4th of July… and why I might need a history lesson.
One side says “keep it light… the world is too heavy right now and people need a break,” while the other side points back more aggressively, saying “no, we need to go through this uncomfortable time, and calling out inequalities isn’t un-American!”
So, I’ve just now decided to appease both sides, because balance is important in life, right? It better be, otherwise, I’d eat Chick-Fil-A much more often.
Growing up in Prescott, Arizona meant a 4th of July parade in the morning with 45,000 people, followed by a day in the park filled with your family and friends, food trucks, carnival games and water slides. Oh, and live music… ah, the good ol’ days, when we could be near each other in a public setting, unafraid of a quick sneeze. It was something I looked forward to every year, calling my neighbors to confirm what time they were heading over. “Okay, make sure you save us a spot next to you. We’re bringing watermelon, chips, and cookies. And Yahtzee. Do you need us to grab anything else?” I’d ask as I sifted through my closet in search of the perfect red, white, and blue outfit.
As a reminder (if only for myself), Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, after the continental congress voted in favor of our independence. Americans continued to commemorate the holiday every year after the Revolutionary War; it allowed a sense of unity within cities and towns, and by the last decade of the 18th century, the celebrations were recognized and spearheaded by both major political parties.
As the years passed in Prescott, the holiday’s festivities became more abundant… at least for me. Obviously, the 4th of July can only be one day, but seeing as my home town holds the title of ‘World’s Oldest Rodeo,’ the bull riding and barrel racing events are a week-long celebration of America’s freedom. Then we have the annual boot race, which takes place right on Whiskey Row after the morning parade, similarly to that of a track meet (except the runners are in cowboy boots); there are different heats divided by age, always closing out with the adult men and adult women. Every year, hundreds of patriotic bystanders watch from the side of the courthouse and in front of the bars, cheering on whoever they inevitably knew racing and in the child’s division, you could always bet on someone falling and scraping their knee on the pavement… something I’m sure many families have on video, playing it back for their kids every year.
If we rewind back to 1776, though, surely we can recognize the freedom granted to Americans wasn’t granted to all Americans.
Slavery was still a booming business back then. It wasn’t until June 19th, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, when General Granger announced the 4 million enslaved black men, women, and children were now free, which came over two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This would be the date now recognized as Juneteenth; a day that focuses on education and self-improvement… a holiday that many feel (especially now) should be nationally recognized.
Allow me now to take you to July 1st, 2004; the Junior boys ask if a group of us Freshman want to go to the rodeo dance. “It’s tradition! You guys have to come!” they demanded, already looking the part, in their Levi’s jeans and button up shirts. “Make sure to wear your short shorts and cowboy boots!”
Family night at the rodeo dance always falls on a Thursday, seeing as the adults want their Friday and Saturday to let loose without the susceptible eyes of their children. I didn’t know what to expect but I followed the fashion direction before showing up at a boy’s house with crimped hair, ready to pile in the blue Ford Explorer and head downtown. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban blasted from the speakers as a flask of cheap whiskey was passed around on our way to the Albertson’s parking lot downtown. The red and white striped tent was massive, and the live music pounded into my chest, even from a hundred feet away. The hay bails lined the entrance and we all paid $10 to get in to the beloved annual party that housed thousands of locals and visitors in their finest country garb. I would learn how to two-step and line dance, and I’d even learn how to love country music… cue Keith Anderson’s *Pickin’ Wildflowers*
So why isn’t the Emancipation Proclamation and celebration of Black Lives Matter enough?
Well, there’s a reason national monuments and federal holidays exist – they embed into our consciousness, justifying the values of our nation.
My naïve value of freedom wasn’t even an afterthought; year after year, watching fireworks light up the sky, reconnecting with friends under that red and white tent, throwing back whiskey sodas served by seasoned women in old-timey costumes and red lipstick. And while I wouldn’t give back a second of my memories dancing to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” I do feel an overwhelming sense of urgency now, to take a step back and really understand what this holiday means for ALL OF US and what I can do to advocate for true equality – true FREEDOM.