Quote by Frederick Douglass: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of Jul...”
"What to the Slave is 4th of July" Frederick Douglass Speech
“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
Independence Day in recent decades has unfortunately become the symbolic gateway to summer in America — featuring grilling and grog, picnics and pyrotechnics, grandiose commercial send-ups of summer cinema, baseball and buoyant, unending hours of beach time. 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. Yet the holiday and the sacred civic pronouncement for decades harbored contradictions that maintained the subjugation of women, the exploitation of non-English-speaking immigrants, the degradation of Native Americans and the humiliation of African humans. In a speech given in Rochester, New York, on July 5, , Douglass rose to the occasion with searing hot rhetoric:.
A black-and-white photograph of Frederick Douglass wearing a jacket, waistcoat, and bowtie. The wet plate ambrotype plates are housed in a folding leather case with tooled gilt oval mat. It was a scathing speech in which Douglass stated, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, You may rejoice, I must mourn. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too, great enough to give frame to a great age.
For those who feel that way, July 5 may be an easier day to celebrate: on that day in , 4, African Americans paraded down Broadway in New York City to celebrate the end of slavery in their state.
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He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me.
Learn why. But America had other principles in mind. How is it that, more than a century and a half after the end of the Civil War, a black man had to instruct members of the United States Congress on the rudiments of slavery and its legacies? It provides a different view of what that moment in history meant to hundreds of thousands of Americans; that black people are forgotten on the Fourth of July in America prior to the Civil War, and the wholesale celebration of it is an indication of the dismissal of a race, and the experiences of an entire race. He used that platform to put himself on the chopping block in a lot of respects. 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.
Part 1: Part 2: Part 3: Resource Bank Contents. Click here for the text of this historical document. During the s, Frederick Douglass typically spent about six months of the year travelling extensively, giving lectures.