The genesis for this blog post originated in a discussion I had with the lovely Tamara Barrett, a vivacious Piscean dreamer and overall wonderful person. Sometimes Tam and I have conversations that sound like a giant stream of consciousness, rife with metaphor and colloquial humor. Other times our conversations are more concrete, rooted in the harsh reality of the light of day. Last month, right before Juneteenth, we were looking ahead to Independence Day and thinking about reconciling its intent with the current context of Black Lives Matter protests and personal introspection.
Dear reader, I hope that you engage with my post, understanding that in my search for connectedness with my ancestors, I have found an authentic connection to Independence Day and a renewed desire to pass on an inheritance of seeking one’s personal freedom to my own three children.Daria Johnson
I’ve never had any particular affinity for Independence Day. As a child, the Fourth of July was the fun house doorway I stepped through on the way to my birthday, the real holiday, you know? Though its historical significance was reiterated year after year in my social studies classes, it only existed as a nebulous little factoid, another something else to know about white men in powdered wigs and their freedoms and their declarations. *
Kanye shrug. For many years now, it has become an annual excuse to indulge in fireworks, cookouts, and the knockout chromo combo of red, white, and blue. How I do love a nautical look!
Within the context of my cloistered pandemic existence, my observations of social justice progress, and a spiritual nudge perhaps, I have been compelled to research my own family’s sojourn to freedom. The family historian, my Aunt Deirdre, has unfurled tales of a pioneering people who overcame tremendous odds, from enslavement to emancipation to segregation to integration to education. And these are not embellished stories in a textbook (See Lies My Teacher Told Me); I can trace my great-grandmother’s grandmother Pinina (Newton) to Wooten Plantation down in eastern North Carolina. A gray-haired picture of her in a dress with flowers at the hem, sits on the piano in my mother’s living room. In an interview with researcher Katherine Baldwin, her daughter, Emma Dupree, shared that Pinina was emancipated at age 16. Aunt Emma also fascinates me greatly because of her work as a self-taught healer or “granny woman.” There are numerous resources and even a short film about her life’s work (Little Medicine Thing).
Aunt Emma was born on July 4th which I find beautifully ironic. Picture it! Eastern North Carolina, 1897; the seventh child of a formerly enslaved woman blossoms into life, destined to heal the sick through an intimate relationship with the same land in which her parents suffered and toiled as enslaved Americans. Her pursuit of her giftedness and calling, although freedom at that time must have felt tenuous, resonates with me. As poets David Thee King and Bone Crusher *wrote, ‘Then how dare I let my fears’ hold me back from the multitudes of possibility in this world?
So while I will still rock the triple threat of the traditional red, white, and blue as my husband mans the grill, and while it is highly likely that the neighborhood dads will ignite the suburban sky in a blaze of grocery parking lot firecrackers, this Independence Day will feel different in ways not dictated by the padlocks of pandemic life; rather, this Fourth of July will matter to me because I have found my personal connection to it in revelatory, profound, and precious ways. Though the forever teacher in me will still skill and drill my children about declarations and powdered wigs and British tyranny, oh my! the mother in me will introduce them to Aunt Emma’s freedom story and maybe even sing that familiar tune. It is her birthday after all.
*from Psalm 14 and “I Ain’t Never Scared”
Daria, a North Carolina native, is a graduate of UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Chapel Hill, and works as a high school Guidance Counselor. Daria is a dedicated wife and friend, and she is the mother of three beautiful children. Daria is a thinker, a writer, and a healer. It is not a surprise that Daria’s eclectic soul mirrors my own. You can read more of Daria’s musings by following her Twitter.