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Since the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, there have been questions of what that independence means for America’s black citizens. As early as 1781, states were officially observing Independence Day – a full 82 years before Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation and 85 years before the last slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas.

Abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass was asked to speak at an Independence Day celebration in 1852 at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall. In a time when most other blacks were still not free, he gave the speech – though it may not have been what the audience expected. Douglass told the crowd, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked them, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?” That speech would later be named after a central question asked by Douglass within it, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

In keeping with Douglass’ question and moving speech, NewsOne hit the streets to ask everyday people what Independence Day means to them, how they celebrate and if black Americans should celebrate it at all. Watch!

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