The following is the speech of Frederick Douglass, delivered when he was asked to speak to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1862.
Douglass spoke as a free Black man in the era of slavery. But his words resonate through the ages. They symbolically represent the slaves, the freed slaves living as virtual non-citizens, later under Jim Crow, and to this day as less than their white co-citizens, discriminated against in finance, housing, and employment, targeted by white supremacists and police. But these words speak as well, to the history of many people of color, to LGBTQI* people, to women, to communists and anarchists, to Muslims, polytheists, and people of all non-Christian faiths, to working people of all kinds. In short, these words can apply, to one degree or another, to most Americans, and they are an entirely accurate indictment of the USA as a whole.
On this 4th of July, as our nation works hard to erase the halting, insufficient progress we have made, as we lock people up for fleeing violence in which our country is complicit to varying degrees, as we lead the world to environmental catastrophe, as we, as a people, ignore the harm being done in our name within our borders and all around the planet, we should not be lighting off fireworks in celebration of war. We should not be reading from lofty, 18th century documents as if they have any relationship to the United States as it exists or has ever existed. We should be heeding the words of Frederick Douglass. To help us do that, here are those words.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? Continue reading