Song: 400 Hundred Years
Artist: The Wailers/Peter Tosh
Album: Catch a Fire/Equal Rights
Writer: Peter Tosh
Released: 1973/2011 Legacy Release
My experience with the 4th of July has been a bit different, as I am a first generation American. My parents were never truly invested; however for the sake of their American born children, [they] assimilated to some customs; mainly throwing barbecues or going to Stone Mountain Park to watch the laser show. This was an all day affair; the laser show would bring together thousands of families who converged upon Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park. They all came to sit on blankets to eat fried chicken, hot-out-the-grease funnel cake and six dollar sticks of cotton candy that melted from the heat of a Georgian summer. The air always smelled of sunscreen and bodies secreting sticky sweat and cheap beer; God bless America.
As night fell, there settled a nice breeze and thus signaled the beginning of the long awaited laser show. The entire show lasts for about an hour and a half. There is a skit with a laser personification of the lyrics to Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia and tributes to Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter and other nationally known Georgians, Ray Charles’ Georgia playing as soundtrack. All of this historic sentiment leads to the part of the laser show that would always make the funnel cake in my mouth turn sour; the homage to the confederacy and confederate flag.
For those not familiar, Stone Mountain Park has a large mound in the center of it, aptly called Stone Mountain. Etched onto the side of this so-called mountain are the figures of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. It is atop this same mountain the Ku Klux Klan revived itself during the 1950s, popularizing the burning of crosses and throwing lynched black bodies down the mountainside.
The laser show begins this homage with a dramatic scene of soldiers fatally falling and then General Lee breaks his sword in defeat and the broken pieces morph into the starred x that crosses the confederate flag; all of this occurring while Elvis Presley croons I Wish I Was in Dixie. It is at this moment that the crowd would erupt into a great roar; a greater applause than the ones given to Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr., combined.
There was a greater pride for the confederacy than for American independence and social progression. The contradictory duality of being both black and American was never more present than watching fireworks below Stone Mountain. The 4th of July only shines light on such contradictions.
400 hundred years and it’s the same old-time colonial and imperialistic, philosophy.
There are recent conversations about the meaning and intention of the confederate flag, whether it is heritage or hate. If we are going to speak of flags as symbols of racial hatred, should the stars and stripes not also be examined?
In secondary school, we were taught that the American Civil War was not about slavery, but state’s rights. What was so glaringly hidden from context was the southern state’s need to have the rights to continue to profit from slave labor. These are the rights they so valiantly fought for, under the banner of the confederate flag. During Jim Crow Era, when my alma mater, the University of Georgia, accepted Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes as its first black students, seven years after the 1954 Brown v. Board decision to desegregate schools; segregationists marched under the banner of the confederate flag. Between 1877 and 1950, in twelve southern states, there were almost four thousand lynchings of black people; six hundred of those occurred in the state of Georgia. These lynchings were often done under the banner of the confederate flag and often went and continue to go unpunished by the stars and stripes.
The confederate flag and the flag of the United States have both witnessed and allowed very dark portions of American history, all under the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It would be ahistorical and dangerous to forget that the confederate and American flag are symbols of oppression. Oppression can be one’s heritage and supporters of the confederate flag, and those who are blindly patriotic, should remember this.
But come on with me, you are black and you’re proud, so you’ve got to be free.
Peter Tosh, perhaps the most militant of The Wailers, spoke candidly about the importance of black identity and liberation. His lyrics should be examined more, as his music is a soundtrack for black liberation and revolution. The song 400 Years, a reference to black sufferance and the covenant of 400 years of oppression mentioned in the Bible, should be referenced when speaking of the independence of any colony. A country’s freedom always comes from a people who fight to obtain what they believe to be their inalienable rights from an oppressive system. Tosh was highly aware of how systemic black oppression was and called on his people to free their minds in order to become physically, mentally and spiritually free from the influences of white supremacy.
I am acutely aware of the privileges being American brings, I cannot deny the things this country has afforded me as its citizen. However, these are strange times living as a black woman in America and I find it hard to give my full support to a country that has not and will not fight for me. Black people in America are still fighting for something to call freedom. I don’t see American socio-political abandonment of black people as something to celebrate.
I do not have any strong sense of connection or extreme patriotism when it comes to America’s independence. America’s independence is told like a fairytale of poor settlers who fled persecution and fought valiantly for a new life in a new world. What is hidden in this narrative is the destruction of so many groups of people of color; destruction is the foundation of American independence.
I do believe that for the 4th of July, black people in America should focus on finding their personal liberation any and everywhere we can find it. Find the things that liberate you mind, body and spirit. Get free. No flag can take that away from us.
Let’s Discuss: As a person of color in the United State of America, what does the 4th of July mean to you?
Tell me below in the comments!