"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" by Frederick Douglass

It's difficult for people living today to put their world into perspective. Talking about things like slavery in America is an abstract concept. Some people talk about it as if it happened yesterday, some as if it happened THOUSANDS of years ago. Much of that is driven by the emotions attached to it, breaking down along racial lines-- to Black folks, not much has changed...to white folks, EVERYTHING has changed!

Here we are in the year 2017, and trending on Twitter this 4th of July is 165 year-old speech made by Frederick Douglass on July 5th, 1852-- 11 years before the Emancipation Proclamation was to be signed. No doubt that this speech is getting a bit of play because "President" Trump mentioned his name during Black History Month back in February.  No matter the reasons for its new-found attention, it's still a very important piece of writing about a time in our history when a Black man spoke to a group of people who in reality were is peers...but under the auspices of the white supremacy myth, he was not.

All things considered, this speech is a profile in bravery. You can tell he is about to lay down some heavy truths because he spends the first 4 paragraphs making a few self-deprecating comments and apologizing in advance for some of the things he is about to say. It was a "trigger" warning before anyone knew what that meant. And quite frankly, we still have a population that is far too fragile to have an honest conversation about these issues.

You must read the speech in its entirety (published here by The Nation), but I would like to call out this section in particular that can give you an idea of the purpose of Douglass' speech:

" 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."

"Happy" July 4th!




Charles Conyers