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VT history students examine the Independence Day experience for African Americans

BLACKSBURG, Va.- – Independence Day means something a little different to everyone, and that's true for African Americans, too, according to a Virginia Tech research project.

First year history students created the website, African American Fourth of July. The project examines several historical African-American newspapers starting in the 1880s up until the 1980s.

The goal was to see how African Americans discussed and understood the holiday throughout those periods and in different parts of the country.

"We ended up with over 400 articles. Some were simply about celebrating this day off. They talked about we're having a picnic or a baseball game. Many of the newspaper articles talk about how can we still celebrate the Fourth of July when we see lynching every day, the Klan is so powerful and we can't vote," said Brett Shadle, professor of history at Virginia Tech. 

Before the project, students read "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July" by Frederick Douglass. It's a speech he gave in 1852 in which he talks about the meaning of the Fourth of July celebration to African Americans.

The website is permanent and is available for anyone to use with internet access.

About the Author:

Irisha joined the WSLS news team in January 2017 after spending four years as a reporter in Georgia.