In preparation for Independence Day, some of us ritualistically reread Frederick Douglass’s greatest speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” That speech, which Douglass delivered in Rochester on July 5, 1852, calls on Americans to live up to the nation’s egalitarian ideals. Douglass gave the speech on the fifth because he refused to celebrate the Fourth of July while slavery remained the law of the land. The speech continues to inspire today, with its soaring rhetoric and commitment to human equality. But could it be taught in states with Republican-controlled legislatures intent on banning from the classroom an honest engagement with the nation’s history of slavery and racism?
Frederick Douglass’ Fourth of July speech: a reminder of the American tradition of critique
July 2, 2021