By Danielle Scruggs
“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common…The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn… Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.” — Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, former enslaved person, Washington, D.C. resident, excerpted from "The Lion of Anacostia", July 4, 1852
The older I get, the stranger it feels to acknowledge Independence Day. As we all know, the United States still enslaved people when the Declaration of Independence was first drafted in 1776. Fast forward to 2015 and there certainly seems to be “an immeasurable difference” between the people who stay silent while Black America is under attack and the people who are under siege.
However, these photos, which I took in Eckington, a neighborhood in northeast D.C. that I called home for five years, represent a specific kind of grace. One that Black people have cultivated while living under the weight of systemic racism, sexism, terrorism, and everyday horrors that are now termed “micro-aggressions.”
To me, that kind of grace represents liberation work. A whole neighborhood coming together to light up the sky; share in the awe of their sidewalks and rowhouses being illuminated by bursts of green, gold, silver, red, and blue; and finding something to celebrate even in the face of impossible odds, is a collective step towards freeing ourselves. Grace and liberation, which I think work in tandem, looks something like what I saw that warm summer evening two years ago.
Perhaps the Fourth of July was never meant for us to celebrate. But we were also never meant to survive. And yet here we are. As we always were.
Danielle Scruggs (b. 1985, Chicago, IL) is a photographer, photo editor and cultural producer who has exhibited her work and curated shows throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Brooklyn, Baltimore and Los Angeles. Residencies and awards include: Pleasant Plains Workshop Studio Residency (2013), The Center for Photography at Woodstock (2013), and The Wassaic Project (2012). The Washington Post, PBS MediaShift, Social Studies DC, Ebony, Stop Smiling Magazine, WAMU 88.5's Bandwidth, Buzzfeed, Greenpeace, Howard University, and LivingSocial have published her editorial and commercial work. Scruggs is the co-founder and Research and Media Director of Mambu Badu, a collective of cultural producers and artists who curate art-based experiences such as biannual shows and publications that center the process and product of black self-identified women who engage in photo-based work. She is also the founder and producer of The Vanguard, an oral history and portrait project mapping the artistic community within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Scruggs earned her MA in Digital Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art and her BA in Print Journalism from Howard University.