The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.
Yesterday, July 5, 2023 marks the 171st anniversary of Frederick Douglass' keynote address as he asked, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?". At a Fourth of July commemoration for signing the Declaration of Independence in Rochester, NY, Douglass, a profound orator, abolitionist, and civil rights activist, vocalizes the hypocrisy in the "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" commitment defended by the Founding Fathers of America.
In a powerful speech, he declares hypocrisy of provisioning this quote while simultaneously pursuing slavery and the continued racial injustice, inequality, and lack of humanity cast onto African Americans. He speaks about the racial disparities protected by the Founding Fathers and white people in power that complicate and separate the measures in how the country may be "united" in celebration and rejoice for a country that does not declare it shared by Black people, nonetheless concur them as 3/5ths of a person.
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 sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, 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.
In 2015, the University of Maryland honored Frederick Douglass by creating a garden area outside of Hornbake Plaza with his statue mid-speech alongside powerful remarks etched onto steel walls. Born in Eastern Shore, MD, Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery and became a civil rights leader fighting against racial discrimination and for human rights. He became a newspaper writer and publisher, orator and ambassador for African American civil rights. He also embraced and argued for women's rights, especially the right to vote.