During this past Fourth of July weekend many people were posting on social media that the Fourth of July should not be celebrated because slavery was practiced when the Declaration of Independence was written. To further support their assertion, they used an excerpt of Frederick Douglass’ keynote address at an Independence Day celebration in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852 that asked, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"
Learning about history and understanding it in the context of time is so very important. When I read Frederick Douglass’ whole speech, instead of just the small section that was posted, I had a very different perspective. I personally feel the strongest section of that speech is at the conclusion:
“…Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery…I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from "the Declaration of Independence," the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age…”
The “obvious tendencies of the age” he refers to were referencing a greater ease of communication. Certainly, if Douglass, a fugitive slave in the 1800s could hold much hope and encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, so we can, too, have encouragement. Constructive communication and finding common ground can heal the racial tensions we are experiencing today. We have a lot to learn from Frederick Douglass. Americans of every background can celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the document that started this country but also laid the groundwork for the abolition of slavery.
You can read his entire speech here: masshumanities.org/files/programs/douglass/speech_complete.pdf