An in-depth biographical study of Frederick Douglass allows the eighth-grade student the opportunity to examine the rare qualities of an extraordinary man in extraordinary times- escaped slave, abolitionist, writer, orator, suffragist, among others- and also affords students a broader understanding of the times in which he lived.

This Frederick Douglass lesson study involves Douglass’ speech,“The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” delivered at Rochester, New York, July 5th, 1852. It is part of a unit on Frederick Douglass relating to the debate over slavery in America leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. In the speech Douglass delivers, he points out with eloquent, incontestable argument the “inconsistencies” or hypocrisies of Americans regarding the issue of slavery.

The sequence of activities in the unit develop background information on the debate and legislation over slavery as well as biographical information on Frederick Douglass including textbook readings and various handouts, culminating in the lesson that breaks down the 4th of July speech into decipherable chunks for the student. There is a written comprehension response to the speech, and a final written essay assessment on the unit.


Essential Question:

Why was Frederick Douglass important and what does learning about him tell us about the times in which he lived?

Related Questions with respect to the 4th of July speech:

  • According to Douglass who supports slavery in America?

  • Why did Douglass believe people who professed Christian beliefs, and also supported slavery, were inconsistent?

  • How has Douglas structured his argument?