Douglass�s Other Fourth of July Speech Is Particularly Timely in 2021

Many Americans pay attention to Frederick Douglass' famous speech The Meaning of July Fourth For the Negro. This speech was delivered in 1852 to Rochester, New York white abolitionists. As I have written before, this speech was delivered years before the Civil War. It contains a lot more information than those who have cited it. Many reproductions of this speech completely miss the last section. This is a far greater hope for America than its supporters might lead you to believe. Douglass also delivered a July Fourth speech in 1875, ten years after the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished. He spoke again about Independence Day for black Americans and first mentioned our role in shaping America's founding and future. However, if any man asks me what colored people have to with the Fourth of July I will be ready to answer. The vast majority of the vital issues in this country have been addressed by colored people. We have been there for him in peace, war and all other times. We were there for him during the most difficult hours of the Revolutions in 1776. Douglass asserts that black Americans have the right to participate in Independence Day celebrations because they have been part of every great struggle, and accomplishment of this great country since its beginning. Douglass recommends to his listeners the work of William C. Nell (History of the Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, Services of Colored Americans In the Wars of 1776 and 1802), encouraging blacks to be proud of their American heroes and our unique place within the American story. Today, there is a minority vocally urging blacks to reject America because of its past sins against their ancestors. They claim that America's role has been one of passive torture, and that this is all America can offer us for the future. To be fair, I have a few friends who chose to return to Africa and live there, although they are paid less in America. However, most people can't or don't want to leave. So what is the most productive way forward? Douglass, a black American who was born 10 years after slavery ended, was encouraging his fellow Americans to look forward and continue building the future. Douglass doesn't gloss over the horrors of forced bondsage that he experienced personally during his first 20 years of life. Douglass was not defined by slavery. He argued that we are not slaves anymore, but freemen, no longer subjects but citizens, and have the right to vote and voice with all citizens. New duties have been imposed by a new situation. Douglass believes that these new duties are to be fully self-sufficient. Douglass lamented the fact that slavery had taught blacks to despise themselves and to respect white men for centuries. He also understood that self-reliance was crucial to self-respect. He stated that the colored race is capable of living a life beyond dependence and can think and talk for itself. Self-reliance and self-respect are central to this self-reliance. Douglass rejected what we might call white allyship. These whites who love the negro and want to do everything for him, but they also hurt many. Self-satisfied, progressive whites who enjoy the spectacle of black suffering and enrich themselves have been around since Douglass' day. Douglass explained that these white allies are there to help black men get the revenue they need to continue their work. Douglass urged blacks to reject white sympathy, white advocacy and white charity. We can only imagine his thoughts on Robin DiAngelo. Douglass' call to black Americans not to abandon slavery or minimize its importance was not a plea to them to accept this country as their own. Douglass was a victim of family separation, hunger and the lash. However, he traveled the world and believed the best thing for black Americans was to rise up in our strength and demand respect from former captors. He also believed that we had the ability to manage our lives and create our own futures. Douglass' call to blacks to reject those who would portray us forever as walking wounded, ever struggling in the shadows of slavery is especially timely today. Racism exists in America as in all other countries throughout human history. Reasonable people may disagree on the extent to which it affects black Americans' lives and prospects. It surely affects us less now than it did 10 years ago when Douglass spoke. We should at least think about this course of action if he, a slave himself, can urge his fellow blacks in 1875 to seize American history from us. Happy Independence Day. The Daily Signal offers a wide range of perspectives. This article is not meant to represent the views of The Heritage Foundation. Do you have a comment about this article? Send us an email at [email protected] with your comments. We may publish them in our We Hear You section. Include the URL of the article or the headline, along with your name and the town/state.