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Jamil Smith Reflects on Douglass’s “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?”

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1865, Image Reference NW0235 as shown on, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Reflecting on Frederick Douglass’s iconic speech, Jamil Smith posted this on The Melissa Harris-Perry Blog:

The speech is called “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” but seems now more commonly known by a kinder version of that most declarative question: “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” Douglass’ words may be considered outdated to some. The savagery of slavery is gone, having left behind its potent spirit, racism, in the very foundation and girders of our society.

But when we see regular reminders from white writers about what it was like for white people in 1776, Douglass remains necessary….

…our African ancestors and their descendants continue to be plagued by an invisibility of experience which necessitates revisiting Douglass, and other historical accounts which address our country’s complicated past. Even current stories outside of a racial context, such as that about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologizing to Pakistan, remind me of what Melissa noted in her Footnote: that “Independence Day is more aspirational than actual,” and that one can wave the flag proudly for an imperfect country.

Read the entire post here.