COMMENTARY: Frederick Douglass on the meaning of the Fourth

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn”

Frederick Douglass (1818 -1895), an American born into slavery (to the Hugh Auld family of Baltimore, MD) forever abolitionist, lecturer, writer, statesman, and editor (North Star, Frederick Douglas’ Paper, and the New National Era), delivered some 70 lectures against slavery and for the rights of free Blacks. He also assailed the oppressive Jim Crow system of laws and practices and lynching of the 1890s. Gaining his freedom after escaping slavery in 1838, a group of British friends and supporters purchased his freedom in 1841 for £150.

On the celebration of the 4th of July of 1852, Frederick Douglas was invited to give a commemorative speech on the Declaration of Independence at Rochester, New York.

Personally offended by the invitation, Frederick Douglass took the opportunity to ask if they were mocking him by soliciting him to speak on this most solemn of American national celebration when he proclaimed:

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” 

Frederick Douglass’ speech is offered in the hopes that those “Americans” who felt the great need to rejoice on this Fourth, may reflect, question, and honestly ask, what are we REALLY celebrating? Today, we are experiencing the modern day New Jim Crow in the form of mass incarceration of 2.2 million prisoners.

It has been 164 years after Frederick Douglass delivered one of his most important speeches to a shocked and offended American audience on July 5, 1852. Unfortunately, the same can be said of today. In 2016, we (those Americans of a lesser god) continue to be mocked by a “dishonest celebration” and deceitful society divided by some of the same old basic issues and concerns that Frederick Douglass so eloquently expressed. "The Meaning of July the Fourth for the Negro" 

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: [read by James Earl Jones] Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a 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 that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

12 Principles For Success Mentioned in Writings by Frederick Douglass
By Fred Morsell

1.   Understanding that the proper use of power is to help others.
2.   Giving up something you want in order to help someone else.
3.   Learning how to challenge and overcome doubt.
4.   Understanding why and how to control the human ego.
5.   Doing what is right and proper without delay, even if no one is looking.
6.   Learning how to use knowledge and understanding wisely.
7.   Overcoming indecisiveness by developing proper organizational skills.
8.   Making gratitude a part of every thought and action.
9.   Practicing the skill of listening before making judgments.
10.  Remaining true to your word.
11.  Practicing the art of giving without expecting something in return.
12.  Recognizing that success is as much a motivation to others as to you.

Luis Burguillo

As a student of the media and journalism, I am interested in utilizing the medium in order to assure that the residents of the City of Hollister and San Benito County are alerted, informed and educated on the official actions of their elected officials who are sworn to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution and Bill of Rights. More importantly, their engagement in the political process will hold the leaders accountable for their actions/decisions and lead to an improved governance.