On July 4th 2023, the United States of America celebrated its 247th independence anniversary which marked the formal separation of the American colonies from Great Britain following the Revolutionary War.
It was a festival of active day-long participation deeply woven in the fabrics of patriotism, love for the nation and a profound respect for the founding fathers but rooted in a complex history characterized by war, visionary ideals, resilience, and the dark legacy of race-based slavery.
The Revolutionary War, fought from 1775 to 1783, was a significant conflict in which the American colonists sought to break away from British rule and establish an independent nation. The war culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, officially recognizing the United States as a sovereign nation. The founding fathers signed America’s declaration of independence on July 4, 1776.
On the other side of race-based slavery, it still remains unfathomable and unreconcialiable – till date – how founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison held hundreds of slaves in captive even amidst the ratification of the 1791 Bill of Rights Bill which added ten amendments to the US Constitution to address concerns about protecting individual liberties until January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which formally abolished slavery.
Nothwistanding the trajectory of the about two and half centuries of the country’s evolation, July 4th means alot to an average American especially because of the way the country was able to reinvent and repurpose itself leveraging on legacies of the past. July 4th therefore can be sumarised as a day when America celebrates a day that vision and leadership matched an action and declaration that set America on a path that is now the envy of the world in terms of prosperity and development.
On this day, the entire US is lit with fanfare. Kaleidescope of colors and amusements, abundant open air concerts and other festivities.
Usually, there’s a parade of activities across the US Clouds which culminates into fireworks at night officially bringing the celebration to a close.
In Williamsburg where we were which incidentally was the Colonial Capital of the US, there was repeated re-enactment of the declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson the 3rd President of the United State. The previous day, we had already been treated to the exact same presidential re-enactment by Jefferson and James Madison when Cliff Feet, President of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation hosted Mandela Fellows of the Presidential Precinct to a dinner at his 18th century home in the heart of the historic area.
It was clear how Jefferson and Madison’s friendship and respect for each other blended well in establishing the constitutional frameworks upon which the US is rested today.
In Williamsburg, the Colonial Capital where we were opportuned to mark July 4th, there was a range of activities and events that allowed guests to go back in time to commemorate the birth of America. This activities we spread across Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.
Back in history, while Williamsburg served as Colonial Capital, Jamestown represents the early English colonial presence in North America, while Yorktown symbolizes a pivotal moment in the American Revolutionary War, leading to the eventual recognition of the United States as an independent nation – all locations holding historical importance in understanding the journey toward American independence.
The activities and event include; Thomas Jefferson reading the Declaration of Independence from the Capitol West balcony, Salute to the States with the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums and a musket volley in Market Square, Reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the Colonial Courthouse, Lights of Freedom, a celebration of the words and music of the American Revolution, beginning on Palace Green where guests are invited to bring chairs, blankets, and food to enjoy the concert and show of native American short films.
In Yorktown, besides the family activities including outdoor games, and a hot dog eating contest held at Yorktown Waterfront’s Riverwalk Landing, Patriotic Parade along Water and Main streets, and Sounds of Liberty Bell Ringing Ceremony, there was beach time along the river with free ferry rides, museum and other sites to visit in that area.
Colonial National Historical Park celebrated the Day by offering a free entrance pass to visit the Yorktown Battlefield, Jamestown Island, and recreational stops along the Colonial Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown.
For fellows, we started out as early as 9:30am for the Duke of Gloucester street to witness the reading of the declaration of independence it was the same re-enactor from Cliff Feets 18th Century home dinner the previous day.
Garbed in 17th – 18th century dress code of the time – consisting of simple suits made of fabrics like wool, with a matching waistcoat, coat, and trousers with breeches that reached his knees and black tricorn hat – characterized by its triangular shape, with three raised sides or corners to match, “Jefferson” being the father of the American declaration of independence was was accompanied by pipe and drums.
“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,” he states in the declaration amidst cheers.
The Declaration was read at the Balcony of the Capitol. It included among others a declaration of rights and freedoms of the USA, a defeat of Great Briton’s abusive and discriminatory leadership by the USA, USA’s effort towards preparation for war against UK and the proud proclamation of USA recognizing that all people are equal as he concludes amidst rupturous cheers and salute that, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
After witnessing the declaration, we made our way to the Capitol’s courtroom, congress room and war preparetion room all of which provided insights into the colonial government, legislative processes, and the preparations made during the Revolutionary War, and contributed to the shaping of American history. At that time, a person needed to be male, white and above 21yrs to sit in Congress.
Next, we attended the Cannon Salute to the 13 States of USA. Again, emphasis was placed on equality represented in the flag of America.
Afterwards we went to the Rondolph house owned by Peyton and Elizabeth Randolph, a historic residence located in Colonial Williamsburg, and associated with the prominent Randolph family, which played a significant role in the colonial history of Virginia.
The Randolph House itself is a two-and-a-half-story Georgian-style brick dwelling, showcasing the architectural style popular during the colonial era. It features symmetrical proportions, a central entrance, and large chimneys. The interior of the house reflects the lifestyle of the Randolph family and the affluent colonial gentry. The couple had no children. They owned 27 slaves names of whome are available in an inventory.
“The house was paradoxical, on one hand, we had these hot basic room with low ceilings where slaves lived and worked on the other hand, we have a heavy tapestry and coolrooms for the house owners,” says Darshinee Choytah a litigation, arbitration and mitigation lawyer from Mauritius who is a fellow Precint Fellow.
History has it that the slaves will cook food for their owners, leftovers of which they were not allowed to eat. They would gather in the community road and discuss what their owners would do/talk. They did the owners laundry at night. The owners would hold meetings for their day to day activities with the slaves. They would always be accompanied with slaves. The owners will even punish slaves for their “bad behavior.” We would also see the rooms where the slaves would work laboriuosly.
Yorktowns beach mode was filled with throngs of fun goers including men, women, young and old, white and other people of colour.
“It was a warm feeling to see everyone relaxing and having fun at the beach,” Darshinee opined.
Reflecting on the experience, Mandela Fellow from Ethiopia, Bereket Erecha who has over 10years of experience in peacebuilding, journalism, and public relations says July 4th at Williamsburg was a unique opportunity to walk on the footsteps of America’s founding fathers and the nations progress through time.
“I was impressed how Americans celebrated the day with their families and friends deliberating on their history and the fundamental tenants of their independence, equality, liberty and freedom. It is a moment of deliberation over the slavery and injustices committed against African Americans and other indigenous peoples, which continues to affect their lives till now, as it is prevalently seen in the economic life difference among White, Black, Natives and others,” he posits stating that he noticed how America continuous to learn from its past and improve through research, preservation of historical sites, remembrances and representation of the past events.
At night we all trooped out to the Governor’s Palace to witness the fireworks which was a spectactular show that may have symbolised celebration, patriotism and unity!
As the darkness sets in, anticipation builds, time ticked and the voice came through, ““Enjoy the fireworks!” and then the first crackling sounds and sparkling lights filled the night sky. The fireworks launch into the air with a resounding boom, releasing a cascade of bright sparks and trails of vibrant colors. Each explosion creates a mesmerizing display of shimmering lights, ranging from brilliant whites and fiery reds to vibrant blues, greens, and purples.
It was a mesmerizing visual extravaganza that captivated the audiences with its vivid colors, explosive bursts, and dazzling patterns.
“Alongside fun and fireworks, July Fourth presents an opportunity for our political and civic leaders to unify Americans in shared values, cultural memory and political history. On this day, Americans recommit to these ideals and the continuation of the American experiment, knowing much work remains,” Karen Walker our Programs Executive at the Presidential Precinct said in wishing everyone happy July 4th.
The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 delegates representing the thirteen American colonies on July 4, 1776.
Meanwhile, Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday celebrated on June 19th in the United States. The holiday commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and the end of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth has its roots in Galveston, Texas, where on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived with federal troops and announced the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas. This announcement came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Abraham Lincoln.
Mohammed is a 2023 Mandela Washington Fellow at the Presidential Precinct, Charlottesville VA, he writes via firstname.lastname@example.org with additional reporting by Darshinee Choytah a fellow Fellow and barrister at the Chambers of Gavin Glover SC, Mauritius.