"What, to the American slave, is the fourth of July?"
Yesterday, in his broadcast sermon, the Rev. Dr. William Barber referenced Frederick Douglass's famous speech, "What, to the American Slave, Is the Fourth of July?". Barber emphasized that Douglass refused to argue points which should be obvious to people of conscience, including basic human equality, the evils of white supremacy, and the inhumanity of brutality. Barber employed the speech, among other sources, to call for the redemption of power in America.
Today, I read and re-read Douglass's speech, and I want you to spend some time with it too. His words practically scream with prophetic relevance for the present-day United States. Because of that, I decided to record a reading of the speech. Not only do these words of Douglass speak to (and rebuke, and inspire) me, but I also wanted to make them as accessible as possible for you. If you prefer to read, here's your link. If you prefer to listen, check out the Soundcloud below. Whatever your jam, I encourage you to find your way into this wisdom.
My friends and family know that the 4th of July is extra special to me because it is also my wedding anniversary. (Thirteen years. Love ya, honey!) It is a happy occasion that Andy and I share not only with each other, but also with other anniversaries and birthdays in our family. There is an important connection between our personal and our national celebrations, and here's the thread: As with healthy marriages and close-knit families, our communities and nation must be brave enough to confront our tensions, admit our wrongdoings, pursue happiness for all, and seek reconciliation where it is needed.
So, this July 4th, I celebrate not only the institutional brilliance of the founding fathers, but also the unfailing bravery of those refusing to settle for less than the full American promise - for all. That struggle and a shared dream of justice - across diverse communities, across generations, and even across political parties - comprise a great American tradition. On behalf of that tradition, I hope that each of us internalizes Frederick Douglass's rebuke, channels his moral clarity, and amplifies his hope in the work of our citizenship.
Douglass closed, and I will too, with a poem. He wrote, "In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:"
God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o'er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th' oppress'd shall vilely bend the knee,
And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom's reign,
To man his plundered rights again
God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end,
And change into a faithful friend
God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant's presence cower;
But to all manhood's stature tower,
By equal birth!
That hour will come, to each, to all,
And from his Prison-house, to thrall
Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I'll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive --
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate'er the peril or the cost,