Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose July 4 to share a quote to Twitter from renowned slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who had expressed that America was “guilty of practices … shocking and bloody.” But a number of fellow Americans have since pointed out that Kaepernick may have chosen the wrong words to share if his intention was to question the patriotism that many Americans display on Independence Day.
The Twitter post featured a video that showed various drawings of lynchings, slavery on plantations, and the Ku Klux Klan interspersed with more recent footage of police brutality.
Kaepernick said in his post: “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? […] This Fourth of July is yours, not mine … There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”
The words come from a famous speech now referred to as the “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech that Douglass delivered on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York. In the speech, he highlighted the difference at the time in freedoms enjoyed by common Americans compared to slaves.
Senator Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, responded to Kaepernick in a tweet thread to point out the context without which “many modern readers will misunderstand.”
Cruz pointed out that the speech was delivered before the Civil War “when the abomination of slavery still existed.”
“Thanks to Douglass and so many other heroes, we ended that grotesque evil and have made enormous strides to protecting the civil rights of everybody,” Cruz wrote.
The ending of slavery was also lauded by President Donald Trump in his “Salute to America” speech.
“Americans love our freedom and no one will ever take it away from us,” Trump said on July 4. “That same American spirit that emboldened our founders has kept us strong throughout our history. To this day, that same spirit runs through the veins of every American patriot.
“That same righteous American spirit forged our glorious Constitution … Devotion to our founding ideals led American patriots to abolish the evil of slavery, secure Civil rights and expand the blessings of liberty to all Americans,” Trump said. “This is the noble purpose that inspired Abraham Lincoln to rededicate our nation to a new birth of freedom, and to resolve that we will always have a government of, by, and for the people.”
Cruz, in his tweet response to Kaepernick, noted, “Douglass was not anti-American; he was, rightly and passionately, anti-slavery,” and proceeded to cite the concluding words of Douglass’s speech where he had expressed hope in the nation.
“I do not despair of this country … There are forces in operation, which must inevitably, work the downfall of slavery … the doom of slavery is certain … I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”
Let me encourage everyone, READ THE ENTIRE SPEECH; it is powerful, inspirational, and historically important in bending the arc of history towards justice: https://t.co/il9WNrmxho
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 5, 2019
Charles C. W. Cooke, editor of National Review Online, also chimed in by quoting similar words by Douglass from the same speech that Cruz had shared from.
“‘Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.’ — Frederick Douglass,” Cooke wrote.
Cooke said: “All of these quotes, @Kaepernick7, are contained within the same speech that you quoted. Are you afflicted by some ugly malady that prevents you from finishing reading a document? Or did you just want to provide an impression wholly unsupported by the evidence?”
One Twitter user pointed out that the ex-NFL player is free to leave the country, and added that black people in America now “have better lives & opportunities than any other place on this planet.”
The person also accused Kaepernick of being hired to keep black people “shackled and enslaved to the past.”
You know you can always leave & live in Africa but we know you will not leave your cushy privileged American life where black people have better lives & opportunities than any other place on this planet.
You are shill hired to keep black pple shackled & enslaved to the past pic.twitter.com/zkcKOxONCD
— Melissa A. (@TheRightMelissa) July 4, 2019
Kaepernick stirred controversy in 2016 by kneeling during a pre-match national anthem. In 2018, he teamed up with Nike to become the face of a new campaign that harnessed his credentials as a protester, rather than a sportsman.
More recently, Kaepernick said that the 13-starred “Betsy Ross flag”—an older version of the U.S. flag—as featured on Nike’s Independence Day sneakers was “offensive,” whereafter the sportswear company halted the sneakers’ release.
As a result of Nike’s move, Arizona’s governor withdrew state incentives for the company to set up a new manufacturing site.