The 4th of July is one of most festive holidays in the country. From flags hung everywhere to picnics, parades, and fireworks, it is one of the holidays that most Americans look forward to celebrating and gathering with family and friends. Some folks know the meaning of it with the thirteen colonies including Georgia demanding freedom from British rule during the War of Independence (April 19, 1775-September 3, 1783). On July 4th 1776, slave owners Dr. Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett, both of St. John’s Parish (now Liberty County), were signers of the United States Declaration of Independence.
Freedom seemed awfully important to the new developing nation given that the three basic ideas of the Declaration of Independence was: God-given equality of man through the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; government’s business was to protect these rights; and the impediment of these rights by the government is cause for people to revolt and establish a new government.
Eight years before the Civil War, on July 4, 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass who escaped slavery in Maryland in 1838 would ask the question, ‘What to the slave is the 4th of July?’
Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny… The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost…Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home.
On April 13, 1862, Liberty County’s native daughter Susie King Taylor escaped a plantation in Liberty County and paddled for freedom until she was rescued on St. Catherines Island by the Union navy. That was her Independence Day. July 4th had never meant anything substantial to her even as she had five uncles who fought with Virginia colonists to secure freedom and independence from the British.
For the more than 4,000,000 enslaved people of the south the 4th of July meant very little until the Civil War ended and the constitutional amendments were ratified and made into law. On December 18, 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. On July 20, 1868, the 14th Amendment provided for clauses regarding citizenship, privileges for immunity, due process, and equal protection for formerly enslaved people. And on March 30, 1870, the 15th Amendment prohibited the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The new Juneteenth National Independence Day signed into law on June 17, 2021 is important because it is another step in America’s alignment with the God-given right of the equality of humanity and it is another opportunity for our nation to honor her past as she remains committed to the principles of the Declaration of Independence – the right life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of her citizens.
Hermina Glass-Hill is the newly appointed president of the Liberty County Historical Society and executive director of the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center in Midway. Please visit the SUSIE KING TAYLOR: Our Town. Our Geechee Heroine of Freedom. Our American Patriot of Liberty Exhibition Thursday-Saturday from 10:00am-2:00pm. To visit, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hermina Glass-Hill, MHP
Executive Director, Historian, Environmental Organizer
Susie King Taylor Women's Institute and Ecology Center