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Descendants of Frederick Douglass Mark July 4th by Reciting His Famous Speech That Is as True as Ever

Illustration for article titled Descendants of Frederick Douglass Mark July 4th by Reciting His Famous Speech That Is as True as Ever
Screenshot: NPR (Youtube

While Frederick Douglass would probably be disappointed (but not surprised) that the so-called land of the free hasn’t lived up to its promises of liberty all even centuries after he delivered his rousing speech, “What to the Slave Is The Fourth of July,” I imagine that he would be proud to see his descendants continuing his legacy of speaking truth to power.

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To mark America’s Independence Day in 2020, a year which has laid bare the injustices still suffered by the descendants of slavery in the United States, NPR released a video of five young Black people descended from Douglass reciting his speech about the annual national celebration.

Ranging from the ages of 12 to 20, Douglass’ great-great-great-great grandchildren powerfully deliver lines from his famous speech that feel even more poignant today.

“What to the American slave is your Fourth 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 boast of liberty an unholy license, your national greatness swelling vanity, your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless.”

“This fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn. Fellow citizens, above your national tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions.”

“The feeling of the nation must be quickened. The conscience of the nation must be roused. The propriety of the nation must be startled. The hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed. And its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

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I confess to getting a little verklempt at the wiser-than-their-years-would-suggest Gen Z descendants of Douglass, who also shared their thoughts about racial justice in America on the background of his speech from 1852.

“He had a lot of hope, especially for his age, and I’m getting to the point in my life where I’m only 20 years old and I’m exhausted,” said Douglass Washington Morris II, who is featured in the video. “I had these thoughts like, ‘will we really ever get to this point?’”

“Somebody once said that pessimism is a tool of white oppression, and I think that’s true,” said 15-year-old Isidore Douglass Skinner. “I think in many ways we are still slaves to the notion that it will never get better. But I think that there is hope and I think that it is important that we celebrate Black joy and Black life, and that we remember that change is possible, change is probable, and that there’s hope.”

Well damn, the kids are more than alright. Watch the full video below:

Writer, speaker, finesser, and a fly dresser. Jamaican-American currently chilling in Chicago.

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DISCUSSION

cmallen
C.M. Allen

All too true. Almost two centuries later, and America’s treatment of black people has improved only superficially. But I have to remind myself — the average age of the highest seat of power is ~65. The average age of those people controlling either party is ~75. Take a step back and remember the America they experienced:

When these people were born and growing up, black people were still routinely being lynched across the country, and both the courts and law enforcement looked the other way. There were no investigations. Countless towns and cities across the US still openly practiced anti-black behaviors and prejudices. A city I lived in for a while still had many “No ******* allowed signs” in their business and on city signs. And it was just one among many like it. Behaviors like it were so common that it earned a nickname — Sunset Towns, as in a black person had better not be around after sunset. Even the *legal* concept and precedent of ‘equal rights’ was something new and largely ignored (to say nothing of its social counterpart, that is still infringed every single day in America). America had also just imported a bunch of white nationalists from many European nations, following the close of WWII.

America is racist because its leaders were indoctrinated into that way of thinking. It’s what they know. It’s how they think. Even if they’re not aware of it, the mentality skews the way they see themselves and the world around them.