A Black American’s View on the Fourth of July

 

On July 1 at 2 p.m. at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, David A. Anderson Ph.D., visiting scholar at Nazareth College of Rochester will present an oration of Douglass’ speech asking what Independence Day means to the American slave. Anderson is an interpreter of living history through reenactments that evoke Frederick Douglass, and other 19th C. personages.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) abolitionist, eloquent orator, writer, editor and women’s rights advocate, was inducted into the National Abolition Hall of Fame.

National Abolition Hall of Fame news

(Peterboro, NY – July 2012) One-hundred-sixty years ago, former slave Frederick Douglass was asked to give a speech on the Fourth of July. Douglass refused to speak July 4, but did deliver a powerful speech the day after Independence Day.

He asked the audience “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? 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? The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you. Not me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. The Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”

July 1 at 2 p.m. at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum to which Douglass was the first inductee, David A. Anderson Ph.D., visiting scholar at Nazareth College of Rochester will present an oration of Douglass’ speech asking what Independence Day meant to the American slave.

A founding member of Akwaaba: the Heritage Associates, Anderson is an interpreter of living history through reenactments that evoke Frederick Douglass, Austin Steward, unheralded escapees, et al.  Often the theme addresses the essential role African American Union soldiers played in freeing a people and preserving the Union. He has presented such recreations at symposia in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and in other venues.

Douglass spoke at anti-slavery conventions in Peterboro and in the Free Church of Peterboro which Gerrit Smith had established. Douglass worked with Smith in organizing the 1850 Anti-Fugitive Slave Law Convention in Cazenovia. Smith made large and regular donations of money to Douglass in order to keep solvent Douglass’ anti-slavery efforts through his newspapers The North Star and Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Douglass dedicated the second edition of his autobiography to Gerrit Smith whom he considered a great man because of his practical efforts to implement universal human rights.

Douglass’ relationship with Smith was also very personal. He visited Peterboro often, bringing with him colleagues and other members of his family for extended visits as early as 1835. Following the program, Norman K. Dann, Ph.D., a Gerrit Smith biographer, will conduct a tour of Douglass’ steps at the Gerrit Smith Estate describing the relationship between the two men.

Admission to the program and to the exhibits at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road in Peterboro is $3 and free to students. The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum is included in the Madison County Cultural Heritage Passport with its companion heritage site the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark. Both sites are open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. through Sept. 23, by appointment and for special events. For more information, email info@abolitionhof.org or call (315) 366-8101.

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