Frederick Douglass: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (2019).


Dave Zirin, one of a select group of sportswriters who really matter, introduces a speech by Frederick Douglass, originally delivered in 1852.

Here’s hoping people take the time to read the entirety of Douglass’s brilliant speech. Even though his were words that spoke directly to his moment in history, they still ring with an unsettling power.

As Douglass says, “Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

The speech itself is lengthy, eloquent and worthy. In my estimation, it is best read prior to hamburgers and fireworks.

‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’, by Frederick Douglass By Dave Zirin (The Nation)

… But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. 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. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!