Area communities plan public reading of Frederick Douglass’ 4th of July speech

What does the Declaration of Independence mean to a human being who is not free?

On July 5, 1852, at an event in Rochester, N.Y., commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Frederick Douglass, a former slave and leading abolitionist, answered this question in a fiery speech after being asked to speak in celebration of the Fourth of July.

“Fellow-citizens,” he began, “why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”

Douglass's speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro,” was an indictment of the wrongs done or ignored by those in power, and a reminder that the Declaration of Independence's statement that “all men are created equal” did not extend to every American.

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” he said. “You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

During the celebration of this nation's independence - its freedom from Great Britain and its tyranny - the Vermont Humanities Council and Community Change Inc., is once again leading a statewide effort to stage community readings of Douglass' speech and invite thought and discussion about race and citizenship.

A community reading of the Douglass speech will take place at three Windham County locations:

• June 30, at 11:30 a.m., at the Jamaica Town Hall, 3735 VT Route 30, Jamaica. Community members are invited to witness and/or join in the reading. Copies of the speech will be provided.

For more information, contact Jennifer Razee at 802-464-8557.

• July 4, at 9:30 a.m., at Pliny Park in Brattleboro. The Community Equity Collaborative, Brooks Memorial Library, and members of the public will host a communal reading, prior to the arrival of the “By the People: Brattleboro Goes Fourth” parade.

Members of the community who would like to take part in the public reading are invited to a rehearsal on July 1, at 7 p.m., in the Local History Room of Brooks Memorial Library. For more information, call 802-254-5290, ext. 1201, or visit

• July 5, at 5 p.m., at Pettee Memorial Library, 16 S. Main St., Wilmington. The reading will take place on the front lawn of the library. In case of rain, the event will be moved inside.

For more information, contact Karen Ameden at 802-874-4151.

The text of this speech, as well as accompanying materials, are available online at

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates