“This Holiday Is Yours, Not Mine” – Frederick Douglass

Douglass’ Historic July 4th Speech

On July 4, 1776, THE Declaration of Independence was signed, marking the colonists    independence from Great Britain. One historian notes that at least 5,000 Black men fought for the Continental Army against the British, men who believed that freedom from Britain would ultimately result in their freedom from slavery.

Not so. It took another war – The Civil War – which led to the  Emancipation Proclamation that  was  signed    January 1, 1863 .. By the end of the war, over 200,000 African-Americans would serve in the Union army and navy.

The   Proclamation initially freed only enslaved Africans in the rebellious  Southern states . Finally The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the entire United States, was passed on December 6th, 1865.


   Freedom fighter, Frederick Douglass   was born into slavery. On the day after  an Independence Day celebration  in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852, he gave an uncompromising speech (Africans were still enslaved). The title was   “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” as he boldly  declared:   

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…. “

   Following are excerpts from that historic speech:

”Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence?

“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? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you, that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation (Babylon) whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin.

“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 the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

“Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”