Tuesday, July 4, 2017

MORNING PETE: Reading Frederick Douglass's "The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro"

Therese and I just returned from the Worcester, VT 4th of July celebrations, which included a community reading of one of Frederick Douglass's most famous orations, The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro, a speech he delivered in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852 and which is being read in 30 communities across Vermont over the first two weeks of this July, sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council and a number of other civic organizations.

It was a moving and sobering experience reading this prescient speech aloud with dozens of white Vermonters. The most famous lines of this speech are, as follows:

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 denunciations 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 these United States, at this very hour.
If you haven't read or heard the speech read, here are some links that you might want to consult:
1. The text of the complete speech (we read a version that was shortened for commemorative readings like the one we did.)
2. A video of Morgan Freeman reading a short segment of the speech
3. Dear white people: Frederick Douglass explains the Trump resistance in "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? an essay by Chauncey DeVega (Includes a video of Trump famously appearing to think Frederick Douglass was still alive.)





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