NPR

'What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?' Frederick Douglass, Revisited

Two readings, 165 years apart, addressed to a nation at a precarious political moment. Why Frederick Douglass' famous 1852 anti-slavery speech is still read — and still resonates — in 2017.
The Frederick Douglass Statue in Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol in 2013. On July 3, the National Archives hosted a reading of Douglass' essay about the Fourth of July. / Drew Angerer / Getty Images

"What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" posed Frederick Douglass to a gathering of 500-600 abolitionists in Rochester, N.Y., in 1852. Admission to the speech was 12 cents, and the crowd at the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society was enthusiastic, voting unanimously to endorse the speech at its end. This speech would be remembered as one of the most poignant addresses by Douglass, a former slave turned statesman. Douglass gave it on July 5, refusing to celebrate the Fourth of July until all slaves were emancipated.

On July 3, 165 years later, the same question was posed on a stage in the basement of the National Archives, in Washington, D.C. This time by an actor, dressed like Frederick

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min read
High School Bull Riders And Barrel Racers Barnstorm Wyoming For Rodeo Championship
"You get an adrenaline rush from it," says Zane Hall, a 17-year-old bull rider and steer wrestler from Australia. He took three airplanes with his dad to compete.
NPR4 min readPolitics
Facing Pressure In Campaign, Sanders Defends His Signature Health Care Plan
Rivals embracing or attacking "Medicare for All" prompted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to lay out his vision for eliminating private health insurance on Wednesday.
NPR2 min readSociety
WNBA Suspends Riquna Williams For 10 Games Over Alleged Domestic Violence
The Los Angeles Sparks guard was charged months ago with assaulting an ex-girlfriend. She will miss nearly a third of the regular season, and the WNBA players union plans to file a grievance.