Today in History: July 5

Why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.
This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. …
—Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852, speech: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

Frederick Douglass, born a slave, was by 1850 one of America’s most famous abolitionists. (In Europe, he was one of the most famous Americans, period.) On this date in 1852, the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society asked him to speak on the topic “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” Some two-thousand five hundred words followed, a speech that whose title is often rendered as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

Here is James Earl Jones reading a section of the speech, at a 2004 dramatic reading of Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States. Zinn introduces (video after the jump):

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Hormel Foods Corporation introduced SPAM to the market on this date in 1937.

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The Statue of Liberty was re-opened on this date 30 years ago after a two-year-long (and $300 million) renovation to mark its centennial.

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Ted Williams died on this date in 2002. Kenneth Lay died 10 years ago today.

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Dolly the Sheep was born 20 years ago today.

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Katherine Helmond is 87 today. Chuck Close is 76. Robbie Robertson is 73 today. Directed by Martin Scorsese, “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” by Robbie Robertson:

Huey Lewis is 66 today. Goose Gossage is 65 today. Randy Credico, an inexhaustable activist and comedian, is 62 today. Bill Watterson is 58 today. Edie Falco is 53.

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