What to a Prisoner, is the Fourth of July?
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting approach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be exposed: And its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all the other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence. [To the slave] your shouts of liberty and equality [are] hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanskgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth, guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
- Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852
July 4, 1993, saw ANC president Dr. Nelson R. Mandela in Philadelphia quoting the Honorable Frederick Douglass’s speech as he accepted the Liberty Medal, along with South African state president F. W. de Klerk. If the joint presence of Mandela and de Klerk were not enough to stir controversy, then the award presenters, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and U.S. president Clinton, certainly stoked controversy among radicals. Hundreds of black Philadelphians, while certainly admirers of Dr. Mandela, took umbrage at de Klerk’s presence.
Although the awarders are known as “We the People—Philadelphia,” the actual everyday people of Philadelphia had little to say in choosing the Liberty Medal awardees, and less say in rejecting the widely unpopular honoree de Klerk. The choice of Liberty Medalists, was made not by the people but by corporate Philadelphia—big business.
Why? Why were the people, many of whom had worked for more than twenty years against apartheid (and for Mandela’s release), frozen out, their protests against de Klerk all but ignored? When, or if, the African majority takes power in South Africa, U.S. big business wants friends there. If one reads the names of corporate sponsors of the award, its sounds like roll call of the Chamber of Commerce: Unisys Corp., Pennsylvania Bell, and the like.
Mandela, who has not voted in a government election in seventy- four years, and de Klerk, the president by way of an election counting only minority, non-black votes, has only the hope of liberty, no more.
The white minority in South Africa has done its level best to stifle African liberty for three hundred years. The African majority, even after the awards, still isn’t free.
- Mumia Abu Jamal, September 1993