For Black History Month, I am celebrating the amazing life of Frederick Douglass.
Here is a link to the rendition of Frederick Douglass’ “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” speech that inspired me to study Douglass more:
Here is the transcript of my video:
I am an avid podcast listener which is how I came to hear James Earl Jones’ rendition of Frederick Douglass’ speech entitled, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”
While the title alone is provocative, the speech itself is stunning and eye opening.
For instance: “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?”
Douglass presented a new perspective for me, one that is certainly as important as any other perspective or meaning attributable to that day.
Frederick Douglass was Born a slave in Maryland in 1818.
He started to learn to read at age 12 despite the wishes of his master
He escaped NY 1838, at age 20yo, but lived in fear of being captured.
He left for Great Britain in 1845 (27 y.o.) where he saw and experienced a society with no segregation by race – it’s possible!
Resolved to create such a society in America, he returned in 1847 to fight for abolition.
He started the first abolitionist newspaper, the North Star, and continued writing.
During the civil war, he conferred with Lincoln on the participation of African Americans in the army.
After the war, he conferred with Andrew Johnson on Suffrage.
The 10 years after the war, the Reconstruction era, was a period of great progress for African Americans.
Douglass continued the fight for voting rights, while using his newspaper to document this era of progress.
Notably, in 1872, at age 54, Douglass was the first African American nominated for Vice President of the US — our current VP follows in his footsteps.
Regrettably, during Reconstruction there arose the backlash in the south that led to the passing of Jim Crow laws.
He died in 1895, the year before the supreme court ruled on Plessy vs. Ferguson, the “separate but equal law.”
Born as a slave in Antebellum South, Escaping Slavery, Fighting for Abolition, living through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and then the Southern backlash leading to Jim Crow—we have Frederick Douglass’ powerful words to memorialize this monumental period in American history from the perspective of the African American experience.
Please join me in celebrating black history month and Frederick Douglass’ prolific contributions.
Listen to his moving speech and explore Douglass’ history and writings.
In closing, I will leave you with Frederick Douglass’ own words. I found this quote particularly poignant now amidst recent calls for “unity.”
“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
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