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One might find it easy to conclude that there have been many changes in America since the awe inspiring and most eloquent speech of Mr. Douglass on July 5, 1852.

In addition to that point, I would be ever so interested to know what Frederick Douglass would say about America today? His words are indelibly ingrained in history by his speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Irresistibly, I feel the urge to offer a few points that I bet is passing through his spirit as we approach another July 4th holiday as I am sure he pays attention to every Independence Day.

He surely realizes that he was totally correct, along with his political guru and friend, President Abraham Lincoln about one key tenet in their thinking. They knew that ending slavery would not be enough. Freedom is indeed paramount on this earth. Juneteenth is now a holiday. However, without an economic lynchpin, an engine or pump primer, one is still in a form of bondage. It was his bedrock principle that caused Mr. Douglass to support the Feedman’s Bank of Washington, D.C., founded by President Lincoln. When it was teetering, he invested today’s equivalent of $10 million dollars, in an effort to save it. He knew back then what we know today, debt is slavery and freedom is not free.

Furthermore, I believe he knows, like President Lincoln knew, that in this vast rock garden of life, the rock most often overlooked, looked pass, very likely to be stepped upon, yet seldom turned over, is the rock of opportunity. As President Lincoln himself said, “Opportunity is often missed because it is dressed up in overalls and looks like work.”

Far be it from me to take issue with Mr. Douglass’s criticism of America from his viewpoint at that point in time in history. However, today, I do believe he would have a high level of frustration at Black America. He would want to see much more determination, much more ‘good trouble’ than what is being exhibited today. He would not support, nor listen to, the siren of victimhood that is much too loud today. He would wonder why every Black American who can afford a home, is not a homeowner. Redlining would not be tolerated and a zip code would not be a nullifier. He would support every dream and every dreamer who feared not the perils of risk taking for starting a business, getting a quality education, obtaining a certification, and another and so on, to get a rung on the ladder of opportunity and success. He would be instilling the value of labor, human life and principles of success and liberty. He had such a profound respect for our founders and the Constitution.

For me, the one exception I had with Mr. Douglass was his declaration that, “It is easier to build excellence in the education of boys and girls than to repair the broken lives of men and women.”

My involvement today in helping to make a way for returning citizens, disadvantaged men and women, and the homeless leads me to believe in the adage, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

Mr. Douglass, our last chapter has not been written yet. This Independence Day should and will serve to remind us all that freedom is not free; or guaranteed. And yes, the same can be said about opportunity.

Finally, I would like to borrow some of his own words, “ Had I the ability, and could I reach the nations’ ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. 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.”

I think I will go now and put out my American flag, in part, for many of the aforementioned reasons.

Until next time…

Michael Murphy


A copy of Frederick Douglass’ speech and an article by Dave Zirin are available at: www.thenation.com/article/what-slave-fourth-july-frederick-douglass/


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