Revisiting Frederick Douglass' “WHAT TO THE AMERICAN SLAVE IS YOUR 4TH OF JULY?”

A recent conversation with doctoral student, Natalie Bradford, who is re-reading Frederick Douglass' seminal speech, "The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro", prompts this blogpost. Douglass delivered the speech on July 5, 1852 at a celebration of the Fourth of July hosted by the Rochester (New York) Ladies' Anti-slavery Society. Imagine the courage it took to deliver the speech as he did through the prism of the African American experience, which is the experience of being a perpetual, intimate witness to both the beautiful ideals of the American project and the utter hypocrisy with which it is implemented. The speech remains instructive in 2018 as stark departures from those ideals now characterize the national landscape: persistent white supremacy, overt anti-black and other forms of racism, nativism and anti-immigrant hostility, exploitation of/extraction from Native lands, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, racialized mass incarceration, and a myriad of practices and policies buttressing economic inequality.

Re-visiting this speech on the Fourth of July is a way to honor Douglass' work by learning from it. Below are two excerpted readings of it; the second one is a brief excerpt for those seeking a shorter version that captures the spirit of the full one.