Happy July 4th, American imperialists!
July 5th, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave an amazing speech. At times, it’s ironic, almost funny, and it’s always devastating; he was a great orator. Shakespeare would have probably lifted bits from this speech. He was addressing the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester and, as usual, he didn’t hold back.
Usually, when people approach the speech, they extract pieces from it, because it’s long and his speaking style is not the kind that pleases the youtube and facebook generation. The full speech is here [hist]; these are a few extracts.
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 this 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. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? 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 to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, “It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed.” But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already.
What, there were tone-trolls telling Douglass not to be so strident? I am amazed.
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.
Howard Zinn’s show Voices of ‘A People’s History of the United States’ included a dramatic reading of parts of Douglass’ speech, by James Earl Jones. We can only imagine what went through Jones’ mind as he read those words and looked at the tremendous progress the country has made, since Douglass gave it the withering tongue-lashing it deserved.
Nationalists are intellectually lazy, among their other crimes.
“Brass-fronted impudence” – damn, that’s good.