Frederick Douglass & Matilda Joslyn Gage on Independence Day

JULY 4, 2018


Frederick Douglass gave this speech in my hometown  – Rochester, NY. Which, I am ever proud, was a bastion of anti-slavery activity (along with Women’s Rights: Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester.) He spoke in 1852. 

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was in force, meaning slaves like Douglass, who’d escaped from the south, could be legally seized and returned south, under federal law.  Nothing doing, said Rochester and many other northern city residents and officials! Sound familiar, sanctuary cities?! Such places forbade their police forces to engage in “slave-catching.” In Syracuse, an organized group freed a captured fugitive slave from the city jail where they heard he was being held. Frederick Douglass spoke with deep emotion and grand eloquence, and this is still a brilliant lesson on the vast difference in racial experience – the unspoken assumptions of white privilege, the long pain of ongoing denial of black people’s humanity in great and small ways. Radical? You bet. As our current president said, “I hear he’s doing a great job.” (It is widely believed, but of course not acknowledged, that this president, not recognizing Douglass’ name from history, didn’t know he was dead.) Ok, well in some ways he’s not.  His words will live on and if we want to be a strong nation, we must heed them.

So read this:

 ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass – The Nation – David Zirin (2012)


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