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How Americans Around The Country Celebrated Independence Day

“As corny as it may sound, there was a sense of togetherness in the air. ‘We’re back, baby!’”

Posted on July 6, 2021, at 12:35 p.m. ET

A shirtless child standing in front of a bush holds up lit-up sparklers in both hands
Stella Blackmon for BuzzFeed News

Fireworks on the driveway with family and neighbors in Springfield, Missouri

The long 4th of July weekend can be a time to see family and friends, enjoy a day off, and celebrate with a barbecue and some fireworks.

But for many Americans, celebrating a country that has done so much harm since its inception can feel complicated and even painful. "I don't feel connected to the 4th of July," said photographer Star Montana. "I never understood it as a child in school. Our teachers would try to say it was our founding fathers’ time and our independence, but I would cry every time I would read they killed another Indigenous tribe through Manifest Destiny."

This year, BuzzFeed News asked five photographers to document their own experiences during the 4th of July.

Cornell Watson, a photographer in Durham, North Carolina, spent the morning listening to “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?," a speech originally given by Frederick Douglass in 1852. "As a Black person, the 4th of July has always brought about complicated feelings, but starting the day with either reading or hearing this speech always helps me keep the celebrations in perspective," said Watson.

Stella Blackmon, a photographer and director originally from Springfield, Missouri, photographed her extended family and friends as everyone settled into spending time outside — a mainstay for the children during the pandemic. "Margot, my cousin, kept saying, 'I'm not sure what I'm going to do when this is all over; this is all I care about,'" said Blackmon.

Cheryle St. Onge, in Durham, New Hampshire, and her family experienced the dark gray, rainy weather that fell on most of the Northeast on July 4.

In Brooklyn, Derek Gardner, a photographer and videographer for BuzzFeed News, crisscrossed the borough to see how New Yorkers were celebrating. “As corny as it may sound, walking Brooklyn on this year’s 4th, there was a sense of togetherness in the air,” said Gardner. “I don’t even need to say this because I heard it directly from a guy from Williamsburg yelling it over and over: ‘We’re back, baby!’”

For Montana, who grew up in a predominantly Mexican American part of east Los Angeles, this 4th was also different because she was choosing to spend her time with family instead of friends, as her dad was recovering from surgery. "My nephew is getting older and all he cares about is fireworks. I don't think he connects it to freedom or America — none of the kids do," said Montana. "I feel there is so much relief and angst being let out in the Los Angeles sky in the lower economic area; people don't understand us. It's not our independence but just relief and gathering with our loved ones, the ones who have survived."

Derek Gardner / BuzzFeed News

Spectators at Nathan's hot dog–eating contest in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York

Derek Gardner / BuzzFeed News

Matching hot dog hats at the hot dog–eating contest in Coney Island

Derek Gardner / BuzzFeed News

Decked out in American flag gear in Brooklyn

Cornell Watson for BuzzFeed News

In Durham, North Carolina, the photographer's daughter Willa gets a temporary tattoo at a 4th of July event for kids.

Stella Blackmon for BuzzFeed News

Left: Finley River in Ozark, Missouri. Right: Family members and neighbors hang out in Springfield, Missouri.

Derek Gardner / BuzzFeed News

A lifeguard begins his shift on the 4th of July in Coney Island.

Cornell Watson for BuzzFeed News

After decorating their wagons and bikes, children line up for a short parade around the park in Durham, North Carolina.

Stella Blackmon for BuzzFeed News

A girl gets her hair braided in Springfield, Missouri, ahead of the 4th of July celebrations.

Star Montana for BuzzFeed News

Left: The photographer's boyfriend picks lemons in the yard. Right: The photographer's nephew holds a kitten.

Star Montana for BuzzFeed News

The photographer's father behind the grill in their backyard in east Los Angeles

Stella Blackmon for BuzzFeed News

A flag cake in Springfield, Missouri

Cheryle St. Onge for BuzzFeed News

Picking blueberries for a pie in Durham, New Hampshire

Cornell Watson for BuzzFeed News

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, children eat Oreo dirt cups with gummy worms.

Star Montana for BuzzFeed News

A family buys ice cream from a truck in east Los Angeles.

Stella Blackmon for BuzzFeed News

A young child rests on a parent's shoulder at a neighborhood parade in Springfield, Missouri.

Cornell Watson for BuzzFeed News

"We spent the evening with my photographer/videographer friends Katrina Hoke (left) and Mark Williams (right)," Watson explained. "We've been talking about getting our kids together for a long time, and this weekend was the perfect opportunity. Their kid, Soren, and Willa loved playing together."

Derek Gardner / BuzzFeed News

Buying shaved ice in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Stella Blackmon for BuzzFeed News

Family members and neighbors watch fireworks explode in a driveway in Springfield, Missouri.

Derek Gardner / BuzzFeed News

Cars get stuck in a traffic jam as crowds form and illegal fireworks go off in the street in Brooklyn.

Derek Gardner / BuzzFeed News

A car with flames painted on it drives through Brooklyn.

Star Montana for BuzzFeed News

A family watches fireworks explode in a Los Angeles neighborhood.


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.