Remembering Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July


I’m not one of those individuals who says don’t celebrate the 4th, as a matter of fact enjoy it, get you a plate or two, spend time with family, live life BUT never, never forget the price that was paid for us to enjoy even these liberties. The first African slaves arrived in this country in 1619; the Declaration of Independence July 4,1776; slavery was not officially abolished (on paper) until 1865… You get it. So on this day I celebrate one of America’s greatest orators and freedom fighters, Frederick Douglass. This is an excerpt from his speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the American Negro” delivered in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852 to an audience celebrating Freedom and Independence:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.


Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.”


An Elegy for Amiri Baraka

In 2008, I began performing spoken word, but when I started grad school in 2010 and began working with our Black Studies Program at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. I soon realized I was a spoken word poet who knew very little about the Black Arts Movement and its writers. I was an extension of a tradition and quite disconnected from it. I knew of Nikki Giovanni, and other poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou, but not in the revolutionary, black arts renaissance context of the 1960s and 70s.

My prior experience working as grad assistant with Black Studies changed that. This was true poetry in motion. I had the unique experience of witnessing African American poetry and mixed media unfold for students of all ages and backgrounds in creative and intellectually engaging ways.

It was an amazing time. In one year, I went from reading and learning to meeting and dining with my  literary and cultural heroes- from Nikki Giovanni, to Sonia Sanchez, to Haki Madhubuti, Eugene B. Redmond. I also had a brief opportunity to meet Amiri Baraka and hear him speak as well at a Kwanzaa celebration in St. Louis.

It may surprise some, but Amiri Baraka’s “Rhythm Blues” was often a favorite among our younger program participants (5th and 6th grades) and today I’m reminded of the indelible legacy that he’s left us in words, rhyme, rhythm, and spirit.



I know your spirit lives on through poem and song.


as your words. your rhymes. your rhythm.


jazz rhythm. funk rhythm. love rhythm. blues rhythm.

you co-wrote the soul of rhythm. blues. people.

you had a blues all your own.

a lifetime expressed over one long blue note

Architect of the Black Arts Movement

you set pages afire

words incinerated

by a mouthpiece so sinister

still leaves some folks afraid to administer you the title of cultural hero

or heretic

but you lived,

under wire

under fire

writing and speaking your own truth

“Slaveboy, leroy from Newark Hill”

speaking and writing your known truth


revolutionary optimism

political in/correctness

unapologetically thinking

unapologetically speaking

your goddamn mind.

© Danielle Hall 2014


Related: Symmetry//Poetry


A Good Day to Reflect on Zora