As the nation approaches Independence Day, many will reflect on Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” — a text that calls out the United States for the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom from Britain while holding millions of Black people in bondage.
“With brave men,” Douglass said, “there is always a remedy for oppression.”
At the time Douglass delivered his speech, white Americans were marking the nation’s 76th anniversary. But most Black Americans were enslaved, and all lived under the threat of the Fugitive Slave Law that denied their basic human rights and even their very humanity. Nevertheless, enslaved Blacks courageously continued to risk their lives to escape their oppression, and they were aided by abolitionists who bravely defied the immoral law by helping them escape to Canada.
A decade after Douglass’s speech criticized a nation that professed to be built on tenets of freedom and equality while enslaving an entire group of people, hundreds of thousands would die in a bloody quest to end slavery. Among the casualties of the American Civil War were escaped slaves who chose to risk their lives fighting for freedom. For them, taking up arms was the remedy to their oppression. (Facing South)