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Black Facts for July 5th

1852 - (1852) Frederick Douglass, “What, To The Slave, Is The Fourth Of July”

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass was invited to address the citizens of his hometown, Rochester, New York. Whatever the expectations of his audience on that 76th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Douglass used the occasion not to celebrate the nation’s triumphs but to remind all of its continuing enslavement of millions of people. Douglass’s speech appears below.

Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here today is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say, I evince no elaborate preparation,

1852 - Douglass, Frederick (1817-1895)

Frederick Douglass was born into Maryland slavery in 1817 to a slave mother and a slave master father. Young Douglass toiled on a rural plantation and later in Baltimore’s shipyards as a caulker. Douglass, however, learned to read and soon sought out abolitionist literature that alleviated what he termed the graveyard of his mind. He eventually escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1838, and took the surname Douglass, which he borrowed from the Scottish romance novel, Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. Douglass’s wife, Anna, followed with their five children. She worked as a laborer in a New Bedford shoe factory while Douglass became a world renowned anti-slavery orator.

Douglass published his slave experiences in 1845 entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself. Having publicly declared himself a fugitive slave, Douglass fled to the British Isles to continue his outspoken campaign against American slavery. After two years of lecturing in England, Scotland, and Ireland, Douglass’s freedom was purchased by abolitionist friends and he returned to the United States a free man. Upon his return in 1847, Douglass began his first newspaper, The North Star which later became Frederick Douglass’ Paper.

Douglass’s life spanned important decades of American history in which the contradictions of race, class and gender were debated. Douglass played a crucial role in those debates. He spoke out against Northern race prejudice as well as Southern slavery. He challenged segregated Sabbaths--either white or black and criticized the race prejudice of immigrant labor organizations which excluded black freemen. Douglass once remarked that his son could more easily become an apprentice in a Boston law firm than in any workingman’s organization. Even while realizing this fact, Douglass became a strong advocate of industrial trade school education for the black workingman. In 1848 Douglass was the only male speaker at the Seneca Falls, New York convention in which Elizabeth Cady

1916 - No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (1914–1918)

When the First World War began in 1914, black Canadian men responded to the call to arms. Like other loyal citizens who flocked to recruiting centers, they wanted to do their part for king and country. Despite being ready and willing to serve overseas, and contrary to official government policy, many potential recruits learned from most unit commanding officers that “this is a white man’s war” and black men were not wanted by the Canadian Military. As a result, the vast majority of black men were turned away, ostensibly to avoid a “checkerboard army.” Despite this rejection, about one thousand five hundred black men did manage to enroll in the CEF across the country.    

But black Canadians were determined to serve in greater numbers. Community leaders wrote letters of protest and approached local and federal politicians to make their voices heard. Finally, with the help of supportive white Canadians, in 1916, the Canadian Military responded by establishing a segregated construction battalion.

The black population of Canada at the time was about twenty thousand, with the majority (seven thousand) in Nova Scotia. On July 5, 1916, over six hundred black men came together at Pictou, Nova Scotia. Because of its large black population, Nova Scotia became the base of the unit. Pictou was also the closest town to the residence of Lieutenant Colonel Donald Sutherland, a prominent railroad contractor, who had volunteered to form the battalion, provided he could do so close to home.

Comprised of about 300 men from Nova Scotia and another 125 from New Brunswick, Ontario, and the Canadian Prairies, 163 from the United States, and approximately 30 from the British West Indies, No. 2 Construction Battalion, CEF, was established. The men who comprised about 7 percent of the total black population of Canada became the first and only black unit created in Canada after Confederation in 1867. The battalion’s mission was to support combat troops on the Western Front in Europe and was one of three construction battalions that

1975 - Praia, Cape Verde (1615- )

Praia is the capital and largest city of the island nation Cape Verde, an archipelago approximately 400 miles west of Dakar, Senegal. The city has a population of 127,899 people and it is the home of over 90% of the nation’s population. Praia lies on the southern coast of Santiago Island. The city experiences a mild desert climate due a short monsoon season and the surrounding Atlantic Ocean moderating the weather.  Average rainfall in the area is about 10 inches and occurs mainly during July, August, and September. Praia is the seat of government as well as the country’s largest port. Main exports through the port are coffee, sugar cane, and a variety of tropical fruits.

The history of Praia dates back to 1615 when it was originally founded by Portuguese explorers and named Praia de Santa Maria. The city evolved into a port that was often times used for illegal trade including in later years the slave trade. In 1770 the capital was transferred to Praia from Ribeira Grande because Praia was growing more rapidly and was considered healthier.  Despite its new designation, Portuguese colonial officials completed the first major dock for the port only in 1863.

Cape Verde gained its freedom from the Portuguese on July 5, 1975 after an almost 15 year war for independence which was linked to anti-Portuguese struggles in Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique. All four nations became free in 1975.  Upon independence Praia became the official capital of the new nation of Cape Verde.

Praia has a cosmopolitan culture.  People of African ancestry are the majority in the city, mainly because of the centuries old slave trade and plantation economy of the islands, but there is still a significant European population including many Portuguese.  The African influence predominates in the languages, food, and social patterns.  The European influence can be seen in the Catholic religion, urban architecture, and clothing. Like other former Portuguese colonies there is a significant Kriol (creole) culture as a result of the

1879 - Smith, Joshua Bowen (1813-1879)

Joshua Bowen Smith, caterer, abolitionist, and state senator, was born in Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1813.  Details regarding his childhood remain obscure.  However, it is known that he was educated in the public school system of Pennsylvania with the assistance of a wealthy Quaker.  

In 1836 Smith traveled to Boston and worked as a headwaiter at the Mount Washington House.  After catering for prominent black Boston abolitionist families for several years he started his own catering establishment.  Over the 25 years that followed he accumulated considerable wealth catering for numerous Boston abolitionist organizations and Union soldiers during the Civil War.  In the process he was introduced to and befriended many notable abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, George Luther Stearns, Robert Gould Shaw, Theodore Parker, and Charles Sumner.

Throughout his life Smith fought vigorously for the abolitionist cause.  Along with Lewis Hayden he publicly denounced the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which made it a federal crime to assist run-away slaves or impede the process of their re-apprehension.  Furthermore he aided fugitive slaves by employing them as caterers in his business.  Among those he assisted were the famous couple, Ellen and William Craft.  Additionally, through entertainments at Harvard College he amassed large sums, which enabled him to extravagantly cater for a host of anti-slavery events.  A few of these events include meetings of the Massachusetts Female Anti-Slavery Society, the Twentieth Anniversary of the Liberator, (January 24, 1851) and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862 and January 1, 1863).

Toward the end of his catering career Smith encountered financial hardship and eventual bankruptcy.  On July 26, 1861 Smith presented a bill of $40,378 to Governor John Andrew for services rendered over a ninety-three day period to the 12th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers.  Governor Andrew however, refused to pay the bill, stating that the state legislature had