Excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s Independence Day address, 1852, in Rochester, New York, embody his continued relevance and provide sobering balance to Blacks’ understandable euphoria over Barak Obama’s presidential bid.
“Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask why am I called upon to speak today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice embodied in that Declaration of Independence extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand, illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can, today, take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “May my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with a popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.
My subject then, fellow citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slaves’ point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondsman making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare with all my soul, that the character of conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.
What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood and stained with pollution is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will see with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival…”
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.