Frederick Douglass’ words prompt reflection on Independence Day

The Frederick Douglass house is seen in Washington Monday, Dec. 3, 2001.  From the house on the hill with its view of the Capitol dome, Douglass, the most influential black American of his time, could survey some of the most important landmarks of his public life. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)
The Frederick Douglass house is seen in Washington Monday, Dec. 3, 2001. From the house on the hill with its view of the Capitol dome, Douglass, the most influential black American of his time, could survey some of the most important landmarks of his public life. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert) (AP/KENNETH LAMBERT)
The bronze statue of Frederick Douglass portrays a youthful Douglass, 15 years before the start of the Civil War, his cape flowing from his shoulders, right arm thrust forward, his mouth wide-open in exhortation. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)
The bronze statue of Frederick Douglass portrays a youthful Douglass, 15 years before the start of the Civil War, his cape flowing from his shoulders, right arm thrust forward, his mouth wide-open in exhortation. (WTOP/Dick Uliano) (WTOP/Dick Uliano)
This June 15, 2017 photo shows gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes visiting the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, D.C., as an ambassador for the National Park Service. The National Park Service is marking its 101st birthday amid a "Parks 101" campaign enlisting celebrities, actors, athletes and others to help publicize sites that get less visitation than the big parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. (Ryan Hallett/National Park Foundation via AP)
This June 15, 2017 photo shows gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes visiting the Frederick Douglass house in D.C., as an ambassador for the National Park Service. The National Park Service is marking its 101st birthday amid a “Parks 101” campaign enlisting celebrities, actors, athletes and others to help publicize sites that get less visitation than the big parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. (Ryan Hallett/National Park Foundation via AP) (AP/Ryan Hallett)
FREDERICK DOUGLASS
FILE — This undated file image shows African-American social reformer, abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass. Douglass was the country’s most famous black man of the Civil War era, a conscience of the abolitionist movement and beyond and a popular choice for summing up American ideals, failings and challenges. His withering 1852 oration in Rochester, New York ranks high in the canon of American oratory and is still widely cited as a corrective to the day’s celebratory spirit. (AP Photo, File) (AP)
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The Frederick Douglass house is seen in Washington Monday, Dec. 3, 2001.  From the house on the hill with its view of the Capitol dome, Douglass, the most influential black American of his time, could survey some of the most important landmarks of his public life. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)
The bronze statue of Frederick Douglass portrays a youthful Douglass, 15 years before the start of the Civil War, his cape flowing from his shoulders, right arm thrust forward, his mouth wide-open in exhortation. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)
This June 15, 2017 photo shows gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes visiting the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, D.C., as an ambassador for the National Park Service. The National Park Service is marking its 101st birthday amid a "Parks 101" campaign enlisting celebrities, actors, athletes and others to help publicize sites that get less visitation than the big parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. (Ryan Hallett/National Park Foundation via AP)
FREDERICK DOUGLASS

More than 100 years after Frederick Douglass delivered a speech criticizing America’s selective liberty, his words will once again be heard — this time from the porch of his Anacostia home.

Douglass delivered his address in Rochester, New York after he was invited to speak on Independence Day in 1852. His speech is best known for a question he posed to the audience: “What to the American Slave is the Fourth of July?”

In his speech, Douglass acknowledged the legacy of the Founding Fathers, but pointed to the hypocrisy of a holiday that celebrates freedom and independence while practicing slavery.

His criticism was unsparing. One passage of the speech includes the following:

“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.”

Phil Darius Wallace, the actor who will portray the famed orator and abolitionist at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site on July 4, offered his thoughts on the speech’s enduring wisdom.

“What’s amazing is that it’s relevant today,” Wallace said. “There’s still injustice; there’s still racism. So that when you hear the Fourth of July speech, it resonates.”

Wallace didn’t become familiar with the Douglass’ speech or its message until 2006, despite growing up in a household with his father’s books on Douglass sitting on the shelf.

“As a young person, in the ’70s when I was in elementary school, I only remember there was a paragraph about Frederick Douglass in textbooks.

The actor — who has now done a one-man show spotlighting Douglass’ life — said he is not the only one to discover the speech as an adult.

Wallace said being able to deliver the address from Douglass’ home in Cedar Hill, with a sweeping view of the nation’s capital, is special.

Standing on the house’s porch, Wallace points, “To the right, as I’m standing on the porch, is Tuckahoe, Maryland,” the place where Douglass was born into slavery. “And to my left, I can see the Capitol.”

That view reminds Wallace of Douglass’ words:

“The simple fact of the matter is, ladies and gentlemen, 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.”

Wallace said he would like people to reflect as they listen to the speech.

“That we all recognize, that if there’s any place for injustice for anyone, that there’s a possibility for injustice for everyone. So that’s what I’d like people to think about,” he said.

To watch Wallace’s performance of Frederick Douglass’ speech, visit the National Park Service for more information.

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