Independence Day (Fourth of July), a federal holiday, approaches. As (hopefully) most of you know, it commemorates the American Colonies’ adoption of the Declaration of Independence from the British Empire on July 4, 1776. The holiday is celebrated in many ways, including barbeques, concerts, fireworks, political speeches, and parades.
Patrick Henry (1736-1799; American attorney, politician, and post-colonial governor of Virginia) fought for the independence of Virginia and strongly supported the American Revolution. He is famous for his “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech. “Give me liberty” did and still does express the desire of people around the world.
One definition of liberty is: “the power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc. according to choice.” (Webster) I thought of the liberty Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906; African American poet, novelist and playwright) took in his writings. He sometimes wrote in the King’s English or in patois (“Negro dialect”) and expressed his observations and impressions of people. Because Mr. Dunbar’s birthday was on June 27 and because of the association of parades with the Fourth of July, I give the reader the following excerpts from Mr. Dunbar’s poem, “The Colored Band.”
W’en de colo’ed ban’ comes ma’chin’ down de street,
Don’t you people stan’ daih starin’; lif’ yo’ feet!
Ain’t dey playin’? Hip, hooray!
Stir yo’ stumps an’ cleah de way,
Fu’ de music dat dey mekin’ can’t be beat…
You kin hyeah a fine perfo’mance w’en de white ban’s serenade,
An’ dey play dey high-toned music mighty sweet,
But hit’s Sousa played in ragtime, an’ hit’s Rastus on Parade,
W’en de colo’ed ban’ comes ma’chin’ down de street…
An’ sich steppin’ to de music down de line,
‘T’ain’t de music by itself dat meks it fine,
Hit’s de walkin’, step by step,
An’ de keepin’ time wid “Hep,”
Dat it mek a common ditty soun’ divine.
Oh, de white ban’ play hits music,
An’ hit’s mighty good to hyeah,
An’ it sometimes leaves a ticklin’ in yo’ feet;
But de hea’t goes into bus’ness fu’
To he’p erlong de eah,
W’en de colo’ed ban’ goes ma’chin’ down de street.
Have a great Fourth of July.