153 years ago on this day, the Battle of Gettysburg was underway. Eleven years earlier on July 5th in Rochester, what is possibly the greatest oration in American history was delivered by an escaped and self-taught slave named Frederick Douglass. His main competitors in the oratory category were named Martin and Abraham. I am attaching a passage from what has come to be known as the Fourth of July speech. Things have improved since 1852; on the other hand, the catalog of American crimes against peoples of color at home and abroad, just since 1940, is a long one.
Recalling the rebuke from Douglass so long ago is a useful counterbalance to the usual Independence Day rah-rah stuff. And it reminds us that many generations struggled so that we could continue the struggle today, in Martin’s words, to make our nation live out the true meaning of its creed–a creed written in 1776 by a slave owner. The shame and the struggle, inextricably interwoven, are part of our nation’s DNA.