Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

July 4

Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” called out the hypocrisy of celebrating independence in a nation in which millions of black people were enslaved. Douglass told an audience of New York abolitionists in 1852, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn.” The speech has been reprinted, excerpted, or referenced dozens of times in black newspapers. Here are four examples:

“The Fourth of July,” Philadelphia Tribune, July 6, 1933: “Douglass was the apostle of frank and biting speech.” (Click to view PDF.)

Ethel Payne, "Will Blacks help mark 200 years of freedom?," Chicago Defender, August 23, 1971: “Douglass was plainly angry about the whole idea of celebrating a day of independence while the nation was coming apart on the issue of slavery. If he were alive today, he might be not quite as angry, but skeptical about the approaching bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution on July 4, 1976.” (Click to view PDF​.)

“Douglass Discusses Fourth of July,” New York Amsterdam News, July 2, 1983: “What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence?” (Click to view PDF​​.)

“Make Democracy Real for All: Douglass Sounded a Warning,” Philadelphia Tribune, July 2, 1993: “Obviously much has changed in American since Douglass stunned his audience in Rochester, N.Y.  Chattel slavery in America has been abolished, yet for vast numbers of Blacks the bondage of physical slavery has been replaced by the purgatory of economic serfdom.” (Click to view PDF​​​.)

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