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Frederick Douglass on the Meaning of the Fourth of July

Date: Sunday, Aug. 22 | 7:00–8:30 PM EDT

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass stepped to the podium at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York to deliver what may be the most impactful speech of his life. In his inimitable way, Douglass assailed the traditional meaning of Independence Day framing it for his white audience of supporters and abolitionists, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, you may rejoice, I must mourn.” As an orator of immense talent, Douglass challenged listeners to reevaluate the meaning of our most sacred national day and for a moment, consider the perspective of a slave. Douglass’ remarkable speech was considered extreme, even radical by some, but in delivering it, he put forward a challenge to his audience not just to reject slavery as legitimate, but to embrace the principles of abolitionism. This rhetorical masterpiece was both an emotional gut-punch and clarion call to stand up for the American principles articulated that day in 1776 and make “all men created equal” a reality under the law.

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