James Earl Jones and Frederick Douglass remind us July 4th isn’t everyone’s Independence Day

'Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.'


Aja Romano


Published Jul 4, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 10:33 am CDT

If you believe that the best exercise of freedom of speech is resistance, then nothing is more patriotic than James Earl Jones reading Frederick Douglass’s scathing abolitionist Fourth of July speech.

A Democracy Now recording of Jones reading Douglass’s famous and moving speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” in 2004 has resurfaced just in time for Independence Day. The performance is taken from a celebration of historian Howard Zinn’s famed compilation of writings from marginalized Americans, Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

“There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour,” Jones intones in a voice full of righteous indignation. 

Written in 1852, Douglass’s speech remind us how far we’ve come as a nation, and how much work we still have to do to achieve true equality for all America’s citizens. In the wake of the Charleston shooting and a year of ongoing turbulence centered around racialized instances of police brutality following the death of Mike Brown, it’s more fitting than ever that two of the most prominent black voices in American history once joined together to remind us that #BlackLivesMatter.

The full transcript of the recording can be read at Democracy Now. And if you haven’t gotten your fill of reminders that America’s ideology of freedom is founded upon a series of historical injustices and atrocities, here are a number of other famous people reading voices from Zinn’s work. 

Happy Fourth of July!

Photo via usembassylondon/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 4, 2015, 1:30 pm CDT