On July 5th, 1852 Frederick Douglass was asked to give an Independence Day speech before the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery society in Rochester, NY at Cortinthian Hall. Historian Philip S. Foner has called this excerpt “probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass’ speeches.” You can find the entire speech here.
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 sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, 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.
Douglass, his second wife Helen, and their niece Eva
IN 1877, THE GREAT AFRICAN AMERICAN ORATOR AND WRITER FREDERICK DOUGLASS, WHO HAD SPENT MOST OF HIS LIFE FIGHTING FOR THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY AND FOR THE RIGHTS OF ALL INDIVIDUALS, TRAVELLED THROUGH NEW ENGLAND ON A SPEAKING TOUR. HE WAS INVITED BY VETERANS OF THE FIRST MAINE CAVALRY, A FAMOUS CIVIL WAR UNIT, TO JOIN THEM AT THEIR ANNUAL REUNION IN OLD ORCHARD BEACH. DOUGLASS IS STANDING FOURTH FROM RIGHT IN THE FIRST ROW. HE NOTED THAT IT WAS A SIGN OF GREAT PROGRESS IN RACE RELATIONS THAT HE HAD ENJOYED “A GAME OF CROQUET WITH LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF A DIFFERENT RACE RIGHT OUT IN FRONT OF THE HOTEL.” via