"What to a Slave is the 4th of July." That's the title of a speech delivered in 1852 by escaped slave and outspoken orator Frederick Douglass to a group of abolishionists. Douglass was born 200 years ago. Last week, at Boston's Old South Meeting House, visitors and friends were invited to read excerpts from his speech. WGBH's Forum Network was there as many tourists paused to take a seat, and listen. This excerpt was edited edited for clarity.
Fellow citizens. Pardon me, allow me to ask why am I called upon to speak here today. What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence or the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice embodied in the Declaration of Independence extended to us? Am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude of the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
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 is shared by you, not by me. 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 reached them.
My subject, then fellow-citizens, is American slavery.
Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and 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.
I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.