On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech at a meeting organized by the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York. It has generally come to be known as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”. In it, the great social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, statesman, and former slave uses the theme of Independence Day to launch a strong critique of slavery.
Our country has made a lot of progress in the 170 years since Douglass gave this speech, but recent events have made it clear that our progress and even American democracy itself are fragile and require constant vigilance. My purpose in writing this post is to make sure that those who read this blog are exposed to it and have the opportunity to reflect on it as they consider the work of proclaiming God’s Kingdom in the 21st century.
Here are some resources related to this great speech:
- Frederick Douglass’, “What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” | NEH-Edsitement (includes full text)
- What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? – Wikipedia
- “What to the Slave is 4th of July?”: read by James Earl Jones – YouTube (00:05:41)
- The Meaning of July 4 for the Negro read by Ossie Davis (1975) – YouTube (00:41:57)
- ‘What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?’: read by Descendants Read Frederick Douglass | NPR – YouTube (00:06:58)
Although legal slavery has been abolished in our country, we still have much work to do! May Frederick Douglass’ words help to build our confidence to faithfully pursue justice.