|July 4th 2008 fireworks, Washington, D.C., loc.gov|
|Lee Resolution, ourdocuments.gov|
Students can also see an image of the July 4 Declaration of Independence, courtesy of the Library of Congress, along with a timeline of 1776 events related to the famous document as noted in the Journals of the Continental Congress. Encourage students to imagine what kind of dissatisfaction could lead a group of people to make a bold statement as was made that day.
|Puck fourth of July 1905 / Frank A. Nankivell, loc.gov|
Then turn the subject into a discussion of perspective by introducing Frederick Douglass' 1852 speech, What to the Slave is the 4th of July? For a short activity, share just an excerpt of the former slave's composition:
Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.Students can discuss who Douglass' audience might have been and what his purpose and meaning were in the speech. Then, they can compare Douglass' perspective on the July 4th holiday to that of the 1852 audience or to the view represented through modern Independence Day celebrations.
They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times...The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn...Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them...To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.
Let students get an idea of how the holiday traditions have evolved over 236 years by reading "What the Presidents did on the Fourth of July" compiled by James Heintz. Ask students to pick which year's presidential celebration they think best fits the meaning of the holiday.
Kids can also find a personal connection to the day's history by interviewing family members about how they have celebrated the day in the past. Visit Climbing My Family Tree One Branch at a Time to get a printable family interview form kids can use to prepare questions and then record family members' answers.
Fourth of July playlist.