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