“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass

“You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

One of my favorite teachers at the University of Arizona when I majored in English and Creative Writing was Professor Geta LeSeur. She taught a literary analysis class that focused on environmental and Black literature. She introduced me to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech, a speech I now read or watch being read every year on this day.

Frederick Douglass ca. 1879
Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879. Photograph by George K. Warren (d. 1884). National Archives: NARA FILE #: 200-FL-22 (scan from [])

In my analysis of Douglass’s speech, I summarized his rhetorical approach as “a respectful, humble preamble and introduction leading to a fiery condemnation.” Here are links to the speech as well as two videos of readings of his speech. I’ll be forever grateful to Dr. LeSeur; her instruction and the content she shared provided me with a framework for confronting my own and this nation’s racism. I continue to depend on and add to the resources she provided.

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