Updated: Oct 19, 2020
It’s easy to say what’s passed is past and that America is a different country now. Undeniably, some things have changed over the past 242 years, but it is impossible to divorce ourselves from the truth.
Today, Black people’s allegiance is usually not to the July Fourth holiday but to Juneteenth, a celebration of the unshackling of our ancestors. Juneteenth also serves as a reminder that slavery continued until 1865, long after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a keynote address at an Independence Day celebration and asked, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"
Douglass was a powerful orator, often traveling six months out of the year to give lectures on abolition. His speech was delivered at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York.
It was a scathing speech in which Douglass stated, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, You may rejoice, I must mourn."
In his speech, Douglass acknowledged the Founding Fathers of America, the architects of the Declaration of Independence, for their commitment to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"; but his scathing comments about the holiday are legendary:
“But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of 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 light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn..."