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On the eve of Independence Day in a momentous year of activism and protest against systemic violence and racial injustice, the Colorado Springs community will gather together for an annual reading of Frederick Douglass’ famous speech: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
Well-known community advocates and artists A.B. Lugo, Rachel Corman, Ovadoze Lemuel, Jerima King, Ashley Cornelius, Nico Alvarado, Jonathan Andujar, Jennifer K. Yancey, Michael Ferguson and many others will each take a turn reading from the speech on the steps of City Hall.
On July 5, 1852, Douglass, an activist and abolitionist, gave this profound, moving and scathingly accurate speech addressing the disingenuousness of the “independence” celebrated each Independence Day in America. While the Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal,” Douglass pointed out how hollow it was to lift up those words while so many remained enslaved 76 years after the country declared itself a land of inalienable rights.
Before the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in New York, Douglass spoke proudly of the bravery of the nation’s founders in their fight for independence, while acknowledging their faults. He also highlighted the work that needed to be done to make the country a true land of the free. In his speech, he addressed the disparities:
“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between 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 life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
His sentiments have been echoed in various forms by many other activists over the last 168 years, including Muhammad Ali, who was arrested and castigated for refusing to enlist and fight in Vietnam, stating, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”
More recently, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was ostracized for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. In an interview with NFL Media, Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and [police] getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Attendees are asked to wear masks and give one another plentiful space if not participating as a reader.
July 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Colorado Springs City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.