Program to analyze Frederick Douglass speech on slavery and ‘the Fourth’

The Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library will host a community gathering on Saturday, July 9, to read and discuss What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? by Frederick Douglass.

This event, from noon to 2 p.m., is a collaborative project in partnership with Indiana Humanities and the IUPUI Institute for Engaged Learning that aims to challenge people to think about the histories they tell, the values they teach, and if the actions match aspirations. This event will take place outside in the East Garden at Central Library.

The CBLC hosted this event for the first time in 2019, and the event continues to draw a diverse crowd and invite timely discussion to help shape our understanding of freedom in American.

“Events like this are so important because they add context to what many people would take at face value, for example celebrating the 4th of July as an American,” said Amira Malcom, interim manager of the Center for Black Literature and Culture at IndyPL.“The continued relevance of Douglass’s words on the “inclusion” – and I use that word loosely – of Black folks in American traditions is something that participants often come away with. Being able to expand people’s perspectives in that way is something the CBLC is happy to facilitate. I hope people take away more about the Black experience in that way and are encouraged to explore the CBLC to get a deeper understanding of that historical context.”

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 and grew up to become a human rights activist, gifted public speaker and author. What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? is often referred to as one of his most memorable and moving speeches. Frederick Douglass first gave the speech on July 5, 1852, at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Emancipation Proclamation was not issued until 1863 and the 13th Amendment that freed enslaved people was not passed until 1865, so this speech was given well before those milestones.

The Indianapolis Public Library’s Center for Black Literature & Culture is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots. For more information on CBLC programs, visit