“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” Frederick Douglass stated in anger during his 1852 oration in Rochester.
Douglass, the great abolitionist, author and former slave, had been asked to speak at the celebration of the nation’s 76th birthday. His echoing speech, reading in part:
"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 constant victim."
Douglass told the crowd at Corinthian Hall, now Corinthian Street, that it must be known that “the rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence” being celebrated was not mutual for the millions of others held in slavery.
“This was 1852; 13 years before the emancipation. This is important to understand because today there are more black Americans in jails, in the American prison system than there were slaves in America in 1852,” stated Carvin Eison, College at Brockport professor.
Again, “What, to the American slave,” Douglass demanded “is your Fourth of July?” is a bold declaration and haunting question resonating with residents even today, nearly 170 years later.
“He fought for freedom,” said Cheryl Hayward, a Rochesterian for the past 30 years who works in the city.
Hayward says she appreciates Douglass’ initiative and his contributions to ensure every man and woman were seen as equal so that she could be given the opportunity to work and grow in the United States.
“I am from the beautiful island of Jamaica and I migrated here as a young girl. I think Frederick Douglass,” referring to the replica statue over her shoulder, “is definitely to be noted, celebrated, recognized and we should all try to walk in the footsteps he set forth for us.”
The speech published as "Oration, Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, July 2, 1852," and carried out on July 5, is considered a national treasure.
Eison stresses, “You cannot overemphasize how important this address is.”