As most of the nation either enjoys vacation after Independence Day, or is heading back to the workplace, it is important to remember that freedom and equality was not always extended to all Americans. Frederick Douglass gave a rousing speech on July 5, 1852 titled “The Meaning Of The Fourth Of July For The Negro” that highlighted that very point.
Douglass and his stance against the practice of slavery has been documented and discussed at length over the years. A prolific orator and activist, the former slave and anti-slavery movement leader was asked to speak at a variety of events during his career. He delivered the aforementioned speech in front of around 600 attendees in Rochester, N.Y. at the Corinthian Hall, which was an event held by the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
It appears that Douglass was invited to champion the virtues of America’s independence and how it related to the supposed good fortunes of Black Americans. While Douglass did open his speech seemingly in support of the founding fathers, he shifted the tone radically while expressing his strong anti-slavery views.
“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 cruelty 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 sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, 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 the United States, at this very hour.”
Historians praise the importance of the speech and while the abolitionist movement supported Douglass and his aims, they were not a movement known for politically charged statements. The speech was made into a booklet and has become required reading in many literature classes.
In recent times, popular figures like James Earl Jones, Danny Glover, Morgan Freeman and countless stage actors have done readings of the speech.
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