On July 3, National Public Radio released a video of the descendants of escaped former slave turned abolitionist Frederick Douglass reading portions of his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Douglass delivered the searing monologue over 168 years ago to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass recounted the miracle of the American founding but strongly implored his audience to understand why the Fourth of July meant little to enslaved people.
“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…This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.”
While Douglass called out the hypocrisy of institutions on the issue of slavery, he ended his fiery speech with hope for the future.
Allow my 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. ‘The arm of the Lord is not shortened,’ and the doom of slavery is certain. 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.
In the video, Douglass’ descendants discuss the disconnected feeling they continue to have towards Independence Day. Douglass Washington Morris II dispairingly stated:
I’m getting to the point in my life. I’m 20 years old…but I’m exhausted. Will we ever really get to this point or is this really something that we should spend our time fighting for?
Young Americans increasingly share the opinion of the Douglass descendants. On the Fourth of July, there was a noted uptick in cynical social media posts decrying America’s post of white supremacy and a general lack of nuance when discussing the Founding Fathers achievements.
It is indicative of the age that young people blessed to be born in America and enjoy more freedom and opportunities than their ancestors’ dared dream would be possible are convinced that America’s faults make her irredeemable.
The comments from the Douglass descendants are especially jarring in light of their ancestor’s illustrious legacy and how far we have come as a society.