Please join the East Side Freedom Library in discussing Frederick Douglass’ reknowned 1852 speech, “What Does the Fourth of July Mean to thje Negro?” at our beautiful space, 1105 Greenbrier Street, on Saint Paul’s East Side.
Douglass’ speech was hosted by the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York, and it came at a time when the abolitionist movement was in the midst of internal turmoil. Activists were arguing passionately about how to engage the struggle to keep Kansas free, how to respond to the Fugitive Slave Act, and what these and related developments suggested about the possibilities for democracy and freedom within the United States. Only in his mid-30s, Douglass was already well-known as a former slave who had traveled to Europe and authored a widely-read autobiography. He moved to Rochester to edit The North Star, a widely read abolitionist weekly.
This speech was delivered to some 500 people in the Corinthian Hall, a space described as a “mechanics’ atheneum,” similar in design and purpose to our East Side Freedom Library. Not only did this speech energize the audience, which interrupted him many times with cheers and applause, but it was published as a pamphlet and widely circulated in the ensuing years as the abolitionist movement grew in organization and militancy. Interestingly, this speech has continued to resonate with audiences and readers over the decades. It has been anthologized in books, incorporated into curriculum, and cited time and again. Two years, Dave Zirin, a Macalester graduate from the mid-1990s who has become one of the most important voices at the intersection of sports, race, and politics, urged readers of The Nation magazine to mark the Fourth of July by engaging Douglass’ speech as a way to explore the distance “between our highest ideals and our darkest realities.” Douglass’ words, Dave wrote, “still ring with an unsettling power.”
The East Side Freedom Library seeks to provide opportunities for community members from diverse backgrounds to engage U.S. history and interact in a setting of community learning. On June 17, we organized a program on “the work of freedom” as highlighted by the Juneteenth holiday. More than a hundred people attended!
We invite you to join us on Monday, July 7, from 7 – 9PM, when former Macalester professor and long-time community scholar-activist Mahmoud El-Kati will place Frederick Douglass within the history of the freedom struggle. We will also hear excerpts from Douglass’ eloquent speech. And we will talk with each other about what all this means for us, in Minnesota, in the second decade of the 21st century. Please join us! We’re one block east of Payne Avenue and three blocks south of Maryland Avenue. It’s easy to come north on 35E, exit at Maryland, turn right, and follow past three lights. The third light is Payne. Greenbrier will be the next right turn. Our event will run from 7 to 9 PM on Monday evening, July 7.