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tv   Slavery and American Independence  CSPAN  August 21, 2017 12:45am-2:01am EDT

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archives in washington dc host the portrayal of an 1852 speech by frederick douglass on the meaning of american independence to slaves. following the performance, discussion is held with an andr, national park ranger professor robert levine. this is about 70 minutes. >> now on to our program. it's my pleasure to welcome our three special guests today. johnson, supervisory park , whor here in washington will moderate our discussion ,ater, last but not least robert f levine, distinguished professor from the university of maryland college park. professor levine has been an influential force in american
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and african american literature for over 30 years and recently has contributed important work to the burgeoning field of hemispheric and transnational american literary studies. he is the author of the 2016 book "the lives of frederick douglass," and after today's production will be signing copies in the archive store. please welcome professor robert levine. [applause] professor levine: thank you for the introduction. thank you to tom for organizing this. it is an honor to be here. my guess is that you would rather hear an actor over an academic, so i will be relatively brief with the introduction. about five minutes. as a lot of you know, frederick douglass was born into slavery in 1818, in the eastern shore of maryland. for the first 20 years of his life, he was a slave, moving back and forth between the
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eastern shore in baltimore. he escaped from slavery in 1838, taking a train from baltimore while dressed as a sailor. he eventually made his way to new bedford, massachusetts. he worked in the shipyards there and as a minister. he stayed relatively quiet about his anti-slavery views, in part because he was still a fugitive slave and was afraid of being remanded back into slavery. but in 1841, he spoke out at an anti-slavery meeting in nantucket, massachusetts. and the great abolitionist, william lloyd garrison was in attendance. garrison signed him up on the spot as an anti-slavery speaker with a good salary. and douglass, with the help of garrisons anti-slavery organization, moved with his
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wife and two children to a house in lynn, massachusetts. over the next several years, he was known as an electrifying anti-slavery speaker for garrison's anti-slavery society. responding to skepticism that someone as eloquent as douglass could not possibly have been a slave, in 19 -- in 1845, he published his most famous work, the narrative of the life of frederick douglass, an american slave. this narrative or autobiography s so famous in his own time, he had to flee to great britain or otherwise risk being captured as a fugitive slaves. while in england, ireland and scotland, douglass became an international celebrity as an anti-slavery speaker. british supporters bought him out of slavery in 1846, and in 1847, douglass returned to the united states as a free man. he decided to go to rochester, new york instead of massachusetts because his british supporters had given him
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money so he could buy a printing press and start an anti-slavery newspaper, which he called "the north star." he did not want to compete with garrison's anti-slavery newspaper, "the liberator," and ." rochester would remain his home base for many years until he relocated to washington, d.c. around 1870. garrison, a white man, was angry at douglas for starting a competing anti-slavery newspaper , and in 1850, the two men publicly broke with each other. this is significant to the 1852 speech which is the focus of the program today. garrison argued for nonviolence, or what he called moral persuasion, and believed the constitution was a proslavery document. thus he argued that anti-slavery people should not be involved in
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the political system. in 1850, douglass announced his rejection of the position, and argued that slavery was an act of violence against black people which, in certain occasions, should be met by violence. he also argued it is important for free blacks to be involved in the system. accordingly, in 1850, he declared his new beliefs that the constitution was, in spirit, an anti-slavery document. douglass emerged as a radical abolitionist. precipitating his break with garrison and the emergence of this new, more aggressive political stance was congress's passage of the compromise of 1850, which strengthened the fugitive slave law on the books. following the passage of the
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firm up fugitive slave law, people in the northeast were -- the northeast, where slavery did not exist, were legally obliged to return fugitive slaves to their masters. from douglass's point of view, the compromise of 1850 with its fugitive slave law nationalized slavery and showed the importance of political resistance. for douglass, the greatest example of political resistance in american history came from the revolutionary fathers and mothers who chose in 1776 to declare their independence from great britain and to fight for their independence. that takes us to 1852, the year that douglass gave what many regard as the greatest anti-slavery speech ever delivered in this country, "what to a slave is the fourth of july?" it was an address delivered in rochester, new york, on july 5, 1852. douglass was invited to give this july 4th speech by the rochester ladies anti-slavery
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society and he delivered it at a large hall in rochester. between 500 and 600 people, whites and blacks, paid 12 cents each to hear the speech, which back then was significant money. an auditory was public entertainment during the pre-civil war wars and people were willing to pay to hear great speakers. douglass insisted on giving the speech on july 5 and not july 4. he felt that until all africans were free, he could not celebrate july 4 on the fourth. for those of either that think this country has a ways to go to achieve all the ideals of the declaration of independence, which, of course, begins with the assertion that all men are created equal, it's therefore significant and in the great frederick douglass tradition, we're having this event on july 3 and not july 4. just before douglass gave his
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speech, rochester's reverend raymond read the complete text of the declaration of independence. then frederick douglass walked to the stage. ladies and gentlemen, the meaning of july 4th for negro, otherwise known as "what to a slave is the fourth of july?" [applause] >> friends and fellow citizens, he who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than i have. i do not remember ever to have appeared before anyone more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than i do this day.
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the fact of the matter is, the distance between the platform and the slave plantation from which i escaped is considerable and the difficulties in getting from the latter to the former are by no means slight. that i am here today, to me, is a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. with little experience and less learning, i have managed to place my thoughts hastily and him perfectly together -- hastily and in perfectly together, trusting to your
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patience and generous indulgence, i shall proceed to lay them before you. this for the purpose of the celebration is the fourth of july. it is the birthday of your national independence. it is to you what the passover was to the emancipated people of god. its carries your mind back to that day into the act of your great deliverance. may the page read not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth shall yet guide her in her destiny. were america older, the patriots hard might be -- patriots heart might be sadder. the reformers heavier. america's future might be shrouded in gloom. and the hope of her profits go out in sorrow. there is consolation in the thought that america is young. [chuckles] >> fellow citizens, pardon me
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and allow me to ask why am i called upon here to speak to you today? what have i, or anyone i represent, to do with your national independence? are the great principles of political freedom and natural as is justice embodied in that declaration of independence extended to us? am i to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude resulting from the blessing of independence to us? would to god, for both your sakes and ours. an affirmative answer would truthfully be returned to the question, then would my labor be light and my burden easy and delightful for who would not been his voice to the hullabaloo years -- to the h allelujahs when the chains of servitude have been torn from it limb?
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that is not the state of the case. i say, with a sad sense of disparity between us, i am not included within the pale of your glorious anniversary, your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. the rich inheritance of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness bequeathed by your forefathers is shared by you, not me. the sunlight that brought life and health to you brought strife and death to me. this fourth of july is yours. not ours. you may rejoice. we must mourn. and to drive a man in fetters and the grand illuminated symbols of liberty and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems is in human mockery and sacrilegious irony. do you intend to mock me, fellow citizens, by calling me here to speak to you today about the
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rivers by babylon? yea, we sat down. for they, who led us away captive, required of us a song. they who wasted us required of us, sing that song of zion. but how should we sing the lord's song in a strange land? oh, jerusalem, may my right hand begin a cutting, and if i do not remember thee, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. fellow citizens, beyond your national and tumultuous joy, i hear the mournful wailing of millions whose change rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. if i do forget, if i do not
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remember the bleeding children of sorrow, may my right hand forget her cunning and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. to forget them and to pass lightly over there wrong and chime in with the popular theme is treason. more scandalous and shocking, it would make me a reproach before god and the world. my subject then, fellow citizens, is american slavery. the simple stories that 76 years ago the people of this country were british subjects. seeing england as a fatherland, the home government did impose
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upon its colonial children such earnings and restraints as is deemed wise, right, and proper.
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