In the nineteenth century, many American communities and cities celebrated Independence Day with a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was usually followed by an oral address or speech dedicated to the celebration of independence and the heritage of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. On July 5, 1852, the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York, invited the Black abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass to be the keynote speaker for their Independence Day celebration. The Fourth of July Speech, scheduled for Rochester’s Corinthian Hall, attracted an audience of 600. The meeting opened with a prayer and was followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence. When Douglass finally came to the platform to deliver his speech, the event took a jarring turn. Douglass told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked them, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?”
Within Douglass’ now-legendary address is what historian Philip S. Foner has called “probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass’ speeches.”
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.
On this and every July 4th, Americans might do well to re-read and reflect on Douglass’ famous message. It challenges us to move beyond the biases and blind spots of our own cultural privileges and consider those around us for whom, as Langston Hughes said, “America has never been America.”
Read Douglass’ complete speech here, and watch actor Danny Glover recite an excerpt from the address below.
The sun is out and barbecue grills are fired up. The long-awaited summer season has returned. With longer days and hotter temperatures, everyone is filling their social calendars with vacations, local events, and outside activities to make up for time spent indoors during those dreaded winter months. We’ve put together a list of summer ideas that are sure to make this season one to remember.
1) Pick a Concert
What better way to enjoy the summer than attending concerts and music festivals. Major artists such as; Kirk Franklin, Beyoncé, Tina Campbell , Drake, Adele and many more will tour across the nation creating the perfect night out for fans everywhere. Many cities will also host music festivals, some that are nationally sought after and others that are local jewels. Newark Folk Festival, Made in America and Essence Music Festival are but a few of the many music events that parks and waterfronts across the nation will host.
2) Book a Vacation
Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day mark the beginning and end of the summer travel season. It is during this time that parents save vacation days for exciting family trips while kids are on break. These months also provide the perfect opportunity to take a girl’s trip, guy’s trip, plan a wedding, or explore a new city solo. This summer, set aside some time and plan a trip that fits your budget to gain experiences and make memories that are priceless. Travel to a new country and absorb the local culture. Visit a new and exciting city. Find time for some rest and relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of the regular work and school week. Now may be a good time to add new stamps to your passport.
3) Explore Your City
How well do you know your state, City or Neighborhood? The U.S. is full of popular, as well as less known, treasures unique to each state. Busy work, school, and family schedules often do not allow time to just be a tourist in our own backyards. This summer, take some time to explore the place you call home. Not sure where to go? Look up your state’s national parks, beaches, museums, campsites, community events and other tourist attractions for ideas on how to better enjoy your state.
4) Spend Some Quality Time
Summertime is the perfect opportunity to spend much-needed quality time with family, friends, and yourself. Whether you’re building your vacation around a family reunion, or picking out the best spa package for you and the girls, don’t let this summer pass without reconnecting with those that matter the most.
5) Take Up a Hobby
Have you ever wanted to try something new but can’t find time to do so? With longer days and warmer weather, find some time to pick up a new hobby. Group activities such as sip and paint classes have become increasingly popular for those that want to explore their artistic side. And for those that are interested in fitness, activities such as Destination Fit-Trip provide the opportunity to travel to a new country and participate in group fitness workouts with popular personal trainers. Hobbies can be expensive, however, sites such as Living Social and Groupon allow you to search for various activities at a discounted rate and participate in different types of experiences.
6) Work on Special Projects
Special projects, such as home improvement, are a huge task to undertake both physically and financially. Whether you’re completing the project yourself, or contracting outside help, this summer could be the perfect time to remodel that kitchen or bathroom, add the extra bedroom to the house, or re-do the deck just in time for barbecues. If special projects will be the task of the summer, make sure you utilize Fourth of July sales to save costs on supplies, and complete the work before the season changes.
Do you have any other great ideas to add to the list? Share them with us below.
What is patriotism? Who loves America?
On the 4th of July, millions of patriots will wave the flag and declare that they love USA. But which USA? Sometimes it seems we love a country that never existed, and despise the country we actually have. Do we really mean “God bless America”? Or just God bless myself?
The reality is we do a poor job of loving most of America. We love the declaration of independence, but continue to live as though much of it is a lie. We do not believe we are all “created equal,” but instead that some of us are just plain lazy, stupid, ill-fit, and unworthy. We value ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ but deny it to the 49 million Americans living below the poverty line.
We rally around the Constitution but ignore its very first sentence, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility.” Have we forgotten this founding mission, even as we make false idols of our founders?
We fight to keep the Pledge of Allegiance intact at our schools, but ignore the words “and justice for all” — we like to pretend that it just says “with liberty.” We behave as though “liberty” and ‘justice’ are opposing forces, forgetting that they have always been, and must remain, inextricable allies. We pride ourselves on our freedom, while maintaining the highest incarceration rate in the world (we hold some 25% of the world’s prisoners in our cells).
We wear t-shirts with the Statue of Liberty, but bare our teeth at the immigrants she was erected to welcome. We love her flame held high, but spit at the plaque at her base: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But given our history, you cannot be a patriot of this country and a bigot toward our immigrants at the same time.
We declare “support our troops!” But if you “support our troops” that means you must support our young, our poor, our people of color — the populations that are fighting our wars. Yet we claim we support our troops while maintaining the systems of injustice that oppress the soldiers fighting on our behalf.
If you “support our troops,” it means you keep their streets at home just as safe as they have kept the streets abroad. It means you give them access to the homes and jobs that they have kept secure. It means you provide the healthcare that keeps their families healthy. It means if they are legal to fight, they are legal to attend school, and that you admit them into your colleges.
We wage war against those that killed some 3,000 on September 11th, but turn a blind eye to the 245,000 poverty-related deaths that occur every year. Is our reaction different because of the identity of the victims, or that of the aggressors?
You say you are afraid of those that want to destroy our country. But so am I. I love America. So much so that I will not stand for the bigots, the oppressors, and the fear mongers who try to destroy it. We need to understand that our ‘American values’ are meaningless if they apply only to the privileged. We need to make clear everything that is anti-American about hate.
We need to reframe what it means to love America and who gets to be the patriots. It is patriotic to care for our neighbors. It is patriotic to educate our children, feed our hungry, and clothe our naked. We need to reclaim patriotism for all Americans.
This commentary originally appeared at By Their Strange Fruit. It is reposted here by permission.