Wednesday, July 4, 2007

‘I got your liberty pole... right here!’

On July 5, 1852, the famed orator Frederick Douglass – at age 34 – delivered a blistering speech in Rochester, New York, at the city’s premier lecture hall. The speech is known today as “The Meaning of July 4 for the Negro.”

Actor Ossie Davis recorded a portion of this lecture for Folkways Records; it was released in 1975. I’m streaming a 7½ -minute excerpt on my Vox audio stash. Click here to hear this sterling example of abolitionist rhetoric.

(Davis’s full 18-minute recitation can be purchased for download here, if you’re an eMusic subscriber.)

To get the most out of my “TimesSelect” subscription, I decided to check whether the New York Times had reported anything on Frederick Douglass’s speech. (The Times digital archive goes back to 1851. Oh, the fun to be had by a history nerd!)

I found no mention of the Douglass speech, but I learned something interesting – kind of hilarious, actually, in a sick way – about the manner in which the Fourth of July used to be celebrated.

Basically, umm... people used to die. From cannon blasts. Because folks used to shoot off cannons. You know, to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Here’s what the New York Times reported on July 7, 1852, in its roundup of Independence Day festivities:

“EXETER, N.H. ... On the 5th, a cannon burst in this town, dangerously wounding Clark Papsen, John Hale, John Birdsly, and Gideon Carter. The two first are not expected to survive. In Heniker, N.H., Geo. R. Davis was instantly killed by the bursting of a cannon on the 5th.”


Another thing: In New York City, rowdy-ass immigrants – Irishmen, that is – used to run wild on the Fourth of July. Here’s what the Times reported on July 6, 1853:
Never was a Fourth of July more prolific in accident and confusion, setting aside the sterner designation of criminal disregard of law and order. ... A serious riot which occurred in the Wards of the West side, having its origin in an accident so simple as the inability of a stage-driver to govern his team, was attended with distressing results.

A mob, consisting chiefly of the members of a Hibernian Society, interrupted in their line of march, fell furiously upon the offending individual, and by their terrible maltreatment of him, created a disturbance greater than any sudden provocation seemed to warrant.

The spirited conduct of the Police, and the ready assistance tendered them by the citizens, finally quelled the riot, but not until several persons were seriously wounded, and one or two of them fatally so.

Carelessness in handling fire-arms was productive of the usual catalogue of small disasters. Beyond these events, the Day was really celebrated with becoming enthusiasm. The occasion comes but once in the year, and it is perhaps but fair that it should be allowed to excuse, as best it may, the excesses to which it has given birth.


Dougfp said...

Interesting...Daily Kos quotes the same Douglass speech today. Must be Give-Frederick-Some-Love Day.

RC said...

There's those West Side Hibernians acting up again, UBM. And they weren't even gang members.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I knew this would catch your eye, RC!

Undercover Black Man said...

Doug: I like giving a little love to Ossie Davis. That was a serious cat.

Mike said...

The West Side Hibernians were not even white back then, they were of the "Irish race", and they had a violent and nasty hatred of blacks, much like Mexican immigrants nowadays.

They undercut black wages, engaged in racist competition, put their boot on the head of the black man (even slaughtered him during the misnamed NYC "draft" riots), stepped over him, moved past him on the job ladder and ultimately became white.

Just as Mexicans are now doing in LA and will shortly be doing across the United States.

Mexican immigrants are no more going to tolerate reparations, race guilt and black affirmative action than Irish immigrants tolerated fighting in the Civil War to free the black man.

As Booker T. Washington said to white folks over 100 years ago, why hire aliens to work for you. Throw down your bucket right here and hire the black man -- he is loyal, willing, able and of your own kind, a true American.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Dave, sorry I'm late on this one. I just wanted to share that I do an annual Anti-4th thang that consists of a mixture of music and spoken word that depicts Black unity, protest, and awareness. Gil Scott, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, Fela, Nina Simone, Don Byron, Spearhead, Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, Jean-Paul Bourelly, and the Last Poets, among others, are featured each year.

Also, I made my son read the speech. First, I read it aloud to get him interested. It was the first time I read the speech aloud. I really got the power of it doing that. It should be required reading every year for people of color on the 4th.

Undercover Black Man said...

You talking about personally, DeAngelo? Or is this a public thing... sounds like a hell of a radio mix.

Interesting thing about it is, I don't present this Douglass speech to piss on the U.S.A. Abolition speeches were a Fourth of July tradition in the North. White folks were stirred to action by Douglass. This is American history, not just black history, and the black protest tradition can be celebrated in a context of celebrating what's good about America.

That is, it changed. It evolved. It progressed.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Point well taken, UBM.

Regarding the mix, when I lived in DC, I resided on Ninth and O. I would place my speakers on the roof and blast the broadcast. Sorta low power Fm on the guerilla tip.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Very cool.