Embracing Frederick Douglass on the Fourth

Caroline Hunter reading from Frederick Douglass' speech. —Julia Goujiamanis

About 100 Islanders and visitors came together this Fourth of July around the Tabernacle for the 20th anniversary of the reading of Frederick Douglass speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.”

The ceremony itself was directed by social justice advocate Makani Themba, who began by introducing Abigail McGrath, founder of the writers retreat – the Renaissance House – that hosted the event.

“When people say to me, ‘get over slavery, it was 100 years ago,’ I can’t,” said McGrath in her opening speech. “I can’t because it’s in my genes. It’s in my DNA.”

After opening remarks, Themba instructed readers to line up at two microphones standing at both the left and right ends of the stage. Several readers alternated in delivering portions of the speech, many displaying intense emotion while reciting its words.

In her portion, audience member Salem Mekuria recited words thoughtfully, glancing up at the rest of the audience every so often.

“The Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” she read from Douglass’ speech.

The last couple portions of the speech were recited as a group, with all audience members chanting Douglass’ words in unison.

As the group closed around 1 pm, audience members mingled together. Caroline Hunter, one of the readers, was among them.

“I’ve been doing these readings for many years,” said Hunter. She also described her work with the Island’s Polar Bear club, a group who has historically created a space for Black swimmers on Inkwell Beach.

Hunter described being a member of the Polar Bear club for 35 years, and is now a leader.

Themba thanked the crowd for joining together, and audience members dispersed.




  1. “”It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.””
    Frederick Douglass.

  2. Interesting point of view.
    I heard a story of a family who lost 60
    acres of land because the klan
    warned them if they were there
    tomorrow they would be hung
    and their house burned—their other
    black neighbors had already been
    targeted. They moved to Buckhead
    near Atlanta and eventually bought
    40 acres, made a little store, sold
    barbecue, and had dances in the store on
    Saturday night. That was also
    taken from them. How do we justify
    stealing generational wealth from
    black families over and over again?

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