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Frederick Douglas

Papers at the Library of Congress

Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838 and became a leading abolitionist, as well as an orator, writer, editor, and public servant.

“What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

At the time of the delivery of this speech, Douglass had been living in Rochester, New York for several years editing a weekly abolitionist newspaper. He was invited to give a fourth of July speech by the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester. In the early 1850s, tensions over slavery were high across the county. The Compromise of 1850 had failed to resolve the controversy over the admission of new slaveholding states to the Union. The Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress as part of this compromise was bitterly resented by the Northern states. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or Life among the Lowly had been published a few months before and unexpectedly became a national bestseller. Across the country, people were thinking and arguing about slavery, abolitionism, and the future of the nation. 

Frederick Douglas’s delivered on July 5, 1852 at Corinthian Hall to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York, read by actor Ossie Davis.

‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass

“What to the Slave is the Fourth July?” by Frederick Douglass is not only a brilliant work of oratory. It speaks to our every frustration spurred by the gap between the ideals of the United States and the reality we witness every day; between the Bill of Rights and our decaying civil liberties; between the USA’s international declarations of human rights and the ordered drone attacks backed by presidential “kill lists”; between the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and a nation that leads the world in jailing its own citizens; between our highest ideals and our darkest realities. Here’s hoping people take the time to read the entirety of Douglass’s brilliant speech; even though his were words that spoke directly to his moment in history, they still ring with an unsettling power. As Douglass says: “Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”  —Dave Zirin

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Culture

Rhetoric of Racism Reparations – Separation?

Black Americans Deserve Reparations – California Can Lead The Way

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, article after article has outlined the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black Americans. The information is staggering: according to the CDC, 30 percent of Covid-19 patients are Black, though Black people are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. In California, more than 15 percent of people between the ages of 18-49 who died from Covid-19 were Black, but only six percent of Californians are.

Many explanations are offered, all of which undoubtedly play their role: Black Americans are more likely to be employed by public facing jobs that do not have a work from home option, offer little to no sick leave, and/or don’t offer health insurance. Black Americans are also more likely to live with chronic illness, instability in housing due to rental markets, and poverty. 

Although it’s impossible to pin down any one factor on which to direct laser focus, one thing is clear: the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has on Black Americans mirrors the various forms of continued, systemic oppression this country has leveraged against Black people since the first person was forced here from Africa. Because of this, we can no longer ignore reparations as a plausible solution to remedy past wrongs.

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Culture

Native American Timeline

Print portraying Pocahontas intervening between her father, Chief Powhatan, and Captain John Smith. Photo from Library of Congress. 

Timeline

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Culture

Protest & Rebellion 1800’s

  • Gabriel’s Rebellion, 1800

Gabriel was a literate enslaved blacksmith hired out to work in Richmond by his owner, Thomas Prosser of Henrico County. With some freedom of movement, access to other slaves, and information about uprisings elsewhere, Gabriel planned a slave rebellion in central Virginia. Betrayed by two fellow slaves, Gabriel and twenty-five of his followers were hanged.

  • The Nat Turner Revolt, 1831

The danger of a slave uprising seemed remote to most whites until this incident. In Southampton County, Nat Turner led about sixty fellow slaves in a two-day uprising that left sixty whites dead. The reaction to the event by white southerners can be seen in broadsides, narratives, and private letters. Because Turner’s former master was said to be a fair man, every slaveholder in Virginia suddenly felt threatened.