• Tia Butts

What to the Black Person is the Fourth of July?

So, our family is not celebrating 4th of July this year. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve celebrated 4th of July since I was in college. The pandemic definitely contributes to us not wanting to go out and celebrate around people, but the Black Lives Matter movement really has me thinking about a lot of the holidays that we celebrate in our country.

Right now, as a black woman, I don’t know how much I have to celebrate about the independence of our nation. My ancestors weren’t free at the time nor were they anywhere near being emancipated. As many whites were celebrating the freedom of the United States as a nation independent of Britain, blacks were still enslaved.

I was thinking about starting next semester off by teaching The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to my AP Lang students, but it turns out that I kept thinking I had AP Literature, and I was prepared to teach the whole book, but then I realized that we don’t even teach full books in AP Language. When I thought I was going to teach the full book, I ended up going back and reading a lot of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass again. So I’m not teaching the whole book, but I’m glad I started reading it.

In either the preface or the introduction, there’s a timeline on Douglass’ life and the book talks about his impassioned speech delivered on the fourth of July. Douglass talks about the hypocrisy of white men that celebrated the independence of the nation while still keeping African American people enslaved. Now, of course, black people were barely considered human at this point, so we were not entitled to rights anyway. But that sheds light on how little our lives mattered (especially) then.

I don’t like to question the intelligence of people, so I’m not going to summarize it or go into an excessive detail about his speech, but it’s titled “What Is The Fourth Of July to the Slave.” Douglass talks about the struggles endured by black people that are still enslaved and certainly not free. Douglass’ ability to make such valid and strong arguments while still managing to stay appropriately humble (as we had to know our place during this time) shows that he was a strong orator and highly diplomatic. In fact, I think his speech made many passive slave owners fall in love with Douglass and start to think deeper about the abomination which was slavery.

I have found out that we will focus more on rhetoric in AP Language, so teachers are encouraged to teach excerpts as opposed to whole books. I’m fine with this and would love to use many of his speeches as a way to introduce rhetoric. Not only does Douglass’ speeches and writings offer student's a high level of rigor, it is totally related to what is going on in the world today.

I’ve digressed a little. If you haven’t, give his speech a read. Regardless of your race, I think it is a speech that all people should read so that you can take in the different perspectives. It may change the way you think of our beloved fourth of July holiday.

July 4, 2020

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