Frederick Douglass’ ‘July Fourth’ Speech Continues To Reveal America’s Hypocrisy Following Supreme Court’s Discriminatory Rulings

The July Fourth holiday is framed as a day to celebrate America’s independence. But the contradictions of a nation celebrating such a day, while Black people remained marginalized, was masterfully presented by Fredrick Douglass on July 5, 1852. 

With his speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?,” Douglass presented the harsh reality of Black enslaved people who endured ongoing cruelty within a nation that had the audacity to celebrate freedom. 

Douglass said July Fourth as “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless.”

But 171 years later, those words are more true than ever following the U.S. Supreme Court’s discriminatory rulings that came days before Independence Day, 2023. 

The Supreme Court ended race-based college admissions that will severely impact Black students seeking higher education. However, legacy students, the students whose parents donated money, and students of staff members are still eligible to receive special treatment when it comes to college admissions.  

Moreover, the Supreme Court struck down President Joe Biden’s “Student Loan Forgiveness” plan which would have provided economic relief for a multitude of Black students who struggle to repay student loans. 

And the Supreme Court also ruled that businesses can refuse to serve certain groups, a ruling that could open the doors to a return to Jim Crow-era laws. 

So when a nation comes together to celebrate July Fourth just days after the Supreme Court’s wicked decisions, Douglass’ words continues to reveal the hypocrisy of celebrating this day. 

“Your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages,” Douglass said.  

But in the midst of calling out the nation’s harsh realities, he spoke about providing better provisions for the future. A note that can resonate today if the Supreme Court’s ruling inspires a movement. 

“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future,” Douglass said. “To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work.”

The work must be done from every sector of society to fight against the onslaught of an abnormal Supreme Court skewed by three justices appointed during the erratic Trump Administration. Politicians, lawmakers, business leaders, educators, and media figures should be encouraged to counter discrimination in all forms. It’s the only way to truly represent the ideas of July Fourth and America being the “Land of the free.” 



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