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, Civil War Era: 1850 - 1864
Themes: African American, Democracy & Citizenship, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery and Resistance

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (July 5, 1852)

“The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” a speech given by Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852, is read by Danny Glover.

In this famous speech, Douglass 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 here.

Excerpt from Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s book Voices of a People’s History of the United States. 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.

Additional Readings

Also see a reading by James Earl Jones, introduced by Howard Zinn, in a segment on Democracy Now! and a 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.

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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