On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester, New York, in which he called out the injustice in the Declaration of Independence for people of color. “This Fourth of July is for yours, but not for mine,” he said. “You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Douglass’s oration was then printed and distributed, where it has become an important part of anti-slavery and abolitionist collections ever since. One of those copies made its way to Better World Books, which received a first-edition pamphlet with Douglass’s famous remarks, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” from the Library at Hartford Seminary. Instead of selling the artifact, the socially conscious online book seller elected to donate the rare print copy to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore to be housed in the special collections of its African American Department.
Prior to gifting the historic item to Pratt, Better World Books partnered with the Internet Archive to digitize and preserve the historic pamphlet for students, readers, scholars, and all people around the world to access. The text is now freely available online to all at https://archive.org/details/orationdelivered00fred/.
The importance of digital access to library materials has been demonstrated during library and school closures due to COVID-19. Said Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian at the Internet Archive, “A lot of our libraries are either distant or difficult to get to, so we’re turning more and more to our screens to get the resources we have from our libraries.” Douglass’s oration is an important contribution to that online collection.
“At Better World Books, we believe in the power of knowledge,” said Dustin Holland, president and CEO of the company. “Our library clients entrust us to maximize the value of each and every book we process. Douglass’s famous speech deserves to be accessible and seen by everyone, so we were compelled to serve the greater good by bringing two great library institutions together to serve this purpose.”
Heidi Daniel, president and chief executive officer of Pratt, said the library welcomed the donation of the rebound pamphlet, which would be made available to patrons in person and throughout the region because of Pratt’s designation as a state library resource center. At the entrance of the Pratt library is a quote attributed to Douglass: “Once you learn to read, you are truly free.”
Douglass, an outspoken abolitionist who escaped slavery, was from the Maryland Eastern Shore. “He has a strong legacy in Maryland that is well studied and well researched,” says Daniel. “This [Douglass] Oration will be right at home here in our African American Department.”