Tag Archives: What to the Slave is the Fourth of July


Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America.is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual, and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; 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; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; 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.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival….



Where they have burned books,

they will end in burning human beings.

(Heinrich Heine)

Recently the white mother of a biracial child took the Accomack County Public Schools (Va.) to task for assigning classic novels “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Harper Lee) and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain).

Unfortunately, district administrators cowered before the “Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources” and temporarily suspended the use of the classic texts.

The request to no longer assign the books flowed from one individual being severely disturbed that Harper Lee and Mark huckleberry-finnTwain repeatedly used the word “Nigger” in their work. Apparently, “Nigger” remains the equivalent of nitroglycerine in the English language; it appears over two-hundred times in “Huckleberry Finn” and nearly fifty in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The frequent use of the word “Nigger” is the primary reason that “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” have earned the dubious ‘honor’ of being two of the most banned books in this nation’s schools and libraries. The fact that the two texts being discussed stand as public statements against racism highlight the general ‘lack of understanding’ that serves as the foundation for such foolishness.

In this latest attack against freedom of speech, the complainant has stated, “I keep hearing ‘This is a classic, this is a classic.’ I understand that…but there are so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that. Right now, our nation is divided as it is. I teach my son he is the best of both worlds, and I do not want him to feel otherwise.”

What this misguided parent fails to realize is that the scrubbing and sanitizing of this nation’s racial past does significant harm to its present and compromises its future.

In every way, when school administrators honor requests such as this, American history is destroyed. Put simply, such a criminal to-kill-a-mockingbirdaction clouds this nation’s storied past. Frederick Douglass warned the American citizenry against such attempts in his speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” when he stated that such actions made “America false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”

It is shameful that so many Americans do not understand that the initial step in solving this nation’s racial problems is an honest view of its sordid racial past. The ridiculous attacks upon classic literature will never have a positive effect upon contemporary race relations.

In fact, it could worsen this nation’s tenuous race relations. Absent an understanding of America’s racial past; one could believe that the current ‘have-not’ socioeconomic position that so many African-Americans have found themselves ensnared within is attributable to personal flaws such as laziness, stupidity, and absence of focus, not discrimination and institutional racism.

As with most things, a complete review of the past is the only explanation of the present. And trust me when I say, the alteration of classic literature that illuminates this nation’s racial history guarantees that the racial inequality, discord, and hatred that has cloaked America for over two centuries will continue to be its most indispensable accessory. When you think about it, what would ‘Lady Liberty’ look like without it?

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2016