How Black Lives Matter transformed the Fourth of July

Peniel Joseph is the Barbara Jordan chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently "The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr." The views expressed here are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)Racial justice protests around the nation make this Fourth of July perhaps the most important in American history. Independence Day 2020 is imbued with new meaning about what it means to be an American, rooted in a collective effort to squarely confront the bitter and beautiful struggles that shape our profoundly historic present.

Peniel Joseph
The Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd's death have finally given millions of Americans renewed language to discuss the messy reality of a nation that remains in the grips of structural racism, white supremacy and a racial caste system that continues to ensure that Black babies, from birth to death, lead a life of greater risk and less prosperity than White ones.
    Perhaps the biggest stride made since the protests erupted on May 26 is the fact that vast majorities are no longer conflating protest against injustice with disrespecting the flag. Black and White soccer players have kneeled together in anti-racist protest and the NFL has belatedly recognized Colin Kaepernick's peaceful protest in support of Black humanity by proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.
    Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized to his teammates and Black America after claiming that kneeling players disrespected his ancestors who fought in wars. This kind of racially hazy nostalgia ignores both Black participation in the military and the racist reception veterans have received upon returning home from war. Public statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with donations and pledges of support for racial justice, has mainstreamed anti-racism on an unprecedented national scale.
    This is especially significant because one of white supremacy's most painful injuries remains questioning the loyalty and patriotism of Black Americans. Black folk have fought, even during antebellum slavery, in every war this country has ever participated in. Almost 200,000 black soldiers fought valiantly to preserve the Union during the Civil War and black soldiers served in World War I and II, only to return to a country where enemy combatants were accorded more respectful treatment than them.
    Frederick Douglass, a former slave turned abolitionist, journalist and public intellectual, delivered the most deeply impassioned Fourth of July speech in American history in 1852, at Rochester, New York's Corinthian Hall. He spoke on Monday, July 5 -- a date which served as part of a long-standing tradition among Black New Yorkers. In choosing that Monday, Douglass also recognized that Independence Day still remained a day when Blacks were auctioned off for sale in the South. Douglass offered the definitive explanation for why African Americans refused to embrace celebrations of freedom amid their own bondage.
    Douglass, anticipating our present debates over public symbols of American history, characterized George Washington's legacy as a troubled one, "his monument built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men." Douglass continued to the heart of the matter. "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine," observed Douglass. "You may rejoice, I must mourn."
    Douglass mourned