Skip to content
Spirit of Justice: 4th of July from Another Perspective

By April Walker

Monday, July 4 is a well-known holiday in our country. From 1776 to the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades, concerts and family barbeques. In the midst of the celebration and summer fun, it is important to also remember that at the inception of the holiday, not all people were able to celebrate freedom. Frederick Douglass, a famous abolitionist and powerful orator, was invited to speak in 1852 at a July 4 event and he opted to speak on July 5th instead. This speech is best known today as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. In this speech, Douglass discussed what it felt like to see people celebrating independence when it was not a given for people like him. 

In an excerpt from this speech, Douglass said:

“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 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 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 the United States, at this very hour.”

And while that speech was written 170 year ago, it is worth considering the relevancy of those statements today. The Fourth of July and harkening back to the Declaration of Independence is a way for our country to be reminded of its potential and promise – as well as how far we have to go to reach true justice and liberty for all of its people. 

Please feel free to explore the links below to learn more about this speech and Frederick Douglass’ life.