Orange County

Carrboro to hear Frederick Douglass’s ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

On a day that this country celebrates its freedom, a group of people will gather amid the festivities in Carrboro to read a historic Fourth of July speech that serves as a timeless reminder that not all feel equality and liberty.

Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” — a speech actually delivered on July 5, 1852 — was fiery, humorous and enduring oratory, first delivered to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Sewing Society.

In Carrboro, music, games, contests and a parade are scheduled throughout the day at the Town Commons and Carrboro Community Center.

Ted Shaw, director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights and law school professor, will break away from the crowd at noon to deliver opening remarks at the Century Center on South Greensboro Street before the reading of Douglass’s speech begins.

Carrboro officials did a reading last year. On the second anniversary, organizers say the “piece reflects a sobering point of view about what is commonly considered to be America’s Independence Day, and is a part of the history of this country that needs to be recognized and remembered.”

The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified 150 years ago, on Dec. 18, 1865.

Amid contemporary events, including concerns about race relations, Douglass’s words from the 1852 speech still ring.

“Oppression makes a wise man mad,” Douglass said. “Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs.”

He expressly challenged those who invoked God in support of slavery.

“Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke,” Douglass said in his speech. “For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948;

Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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