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‘What Is Your 4th of July?’

During our childhood in New Hampshire, the idea of slavery in America hardly marked our mind, so removed were we by geography and culture from that sad chapter of American history.

But during the past year or so, from our vantage in central Virginia, the history of this country has looked very different.

One voice we’ve come to admire is that of Frederick Douglass ( 1818 – 1895), a man who escaped from slavery and became the most articulate advocate ever for abolition.

Here’s what he said in 1852, a decade before the emancipation, in his then home town of Rochester, New York:

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.

From The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro, delivered July 5, 1852 at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall.

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