What To The African-American Is 4th of July?

US Slavery Abolitionist, Frederick Douglas

“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.”

– Frederick Douglas


Frederick Douglass,  social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman was invited to speak about the meaning of the ceremony of America’s independence from Great Britain, the celebrated July 4th, by the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in New York, of which he most ‘gratefully’and ‘modestly’ accepted. Those words, however, could not be applied to the lambasting he proceeded to give his captive audience on July 5th, 1852. Douglass was a fiery orator and his speeches were often published in various abolitionist newspapers. Among his most well-known speeches and the one he delivered that day, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”, is excerpted and performed here by veteran actor Morgan Freeman:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Excerpt from speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”,  [read  an abridged version of  the speech here]

“Throughout this speech, as well as his life, Douglass advocated equal justice and rights, as well as citizenship, for blacks. He begins his speech by modestly apologizing for being nervous in front of the crowd and recognizes that he has come a long way since his escape from slavery. He tells the audience that they have gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July, but he reminds them that the nation is young, and, like a young child, it is still impressionable and capable of positive change.”

source: Critical Essays The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro


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