Film Clips

Frederick Douglass: “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”

Film clip. Voices of a People’s History.
Frederick Douglass’ speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (1852) is read by Danny Glover.

Time Periods: 19th Century, 1850
Themes: African American, Democracy & Citizenship, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery and Resistance

In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered his speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” on July 5 at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Rochester, New York. Douglass’ words resonate today.

Frederick Douglass | Zinn Education Project

Frederick Douglass

The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.

In this famous speech, Douglass also says:

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.

Read Full Speech

Dramatic Readings

Listen to an excerpt of the speech read by Danny Glover.

Reading by Glover on October 5, 2005 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center George and Sakaye Aratani Japan America Theatre, Los Angeles, California. Excerpt from Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s book Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

Reading by James Earl Jones, introduced by Howard Zinn, in a segment on Democracy Now!

Segment read by Brian Jones at a convening of National Nurses United.

Frederick Douglass, The People Speak, read by Brian Jones from National Nurses United on Vimeo.

More video clips can be found at the Voices of a People’s History website and in the film The People Speak.

More People’s History from July 4

3 comments on “Frederick Douglass: “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”

  1. Copper on

    For Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, fourth of July has many meanings, and it can be a cause for heated debates. The United States “gave” freedom to the Filipinos in July 4, 1946, while some Filipinos were still fighting a war against US aggression after the war against the Japanese.

  2. deeje8 on

    I’m currently reading Zinn’s wonderful, unvarnished look at American history. His interpretation of the colonial period and the post-Revolutionary Era make today’s America so much clearer. I love Danny Glover’s reading of that famous Frederick Douglass speech!

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