What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?
July 4, 2020 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Descendents of Frederick Douglass read his 4th of July speech. In this speech, to an abolitionist group, Douglass questions the celebration of freedom, for in 1852, was not granted to him.

What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
posted by zabuni (6 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I was reading this speech a few days ago and what's left to say to those words?

I want to say that America is the promise of the ideals that it espouses but that promise has been unfulfilled to so many for so long that it only sounds hollow at this point. Like I get that we should want to celebrate how far we've come but it seems so self-congratulatory that we inched a little closer towards where we need to be, especially since lately it feels more like we're going backwards.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:06 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]

that we inched a little closer towards where we need to be

The fact that we can perceive our progress since Douglass’s day as mere “inches” is a testimony to how far we’ve come. “Where we need to be” is a target that will recede from us as we try to approach it and better realize what it means. As Baldwin wrote, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually”

Untitled (Questions) by Barbara Kruger
posted by Going To Maine at 9:12 PM on July 4 [8 favorites]

The AP reports today that "About 150 preachers, rabbis and imams were framing holiday sermons around the theme “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”"
posted by katra at 9:15 PM on July 4 [11 favorites]

Historical note: Douglass gave the speech on the 5th of July, not the 4th. A scholar of my acquaintance argues that that timing was a really important piece of Douglass' strategy, so passing it on here.
posted by Miko at 8:04 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]

What To My People Is The 4th of July?, an updated version performed by Daveed Diggs.
posted by TwoStride at 12:16 PM on July 5 [6 favorites]

Frederick Douglass statue torn down in Rochester, N.Y., on anniversary of his famous Fourth of July speech (WaPo)
In the fiery speech, Douglass asked: “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?"

Douglass answered: "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 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.”
posted by katra at 10:43 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

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