Frederick Douglass: What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?

by Tim Bailey

Unit Objective

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. The lessons are built around the use of textual evidence and critical thinking skills.

Lesson 1

Objective

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July,” a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852. Through reading and analyzing the original text, the students will discover what is explicitly stated, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate their understanding by writing a succinct summary using the author’s words and then restating that summary in the student’s own words. The first lesson will be facilitated by the teacher and done as a whole-class lesson.

Introduction

The teacher tells the students that they will be learning what Frederick Douglass said on the 5th of July in 1852. Born into slavery in Maryland, Frederick Douglass was taught to read and write even though it was illegal for anyone to teach a slave those skills. Douglass went on to write that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” After two unsuccessful attempts to escape bondage Douglass finally succeeded in September 1838. During the 1850s, Frederick Douglass typically spent about six months of the year traveling and giving abolitionist lectures as well as speaking and writing from his home. On July 5, 1852, Douglass delivered an address commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society. This address has come to be known as Douglass’s “What to the Negro Is the 4th of July?” speech. Resist the temptation to put the document into too much context. Remember, we are trying to let the students discover what Douglass actually said, and then let the students develop ideas based solely on Douglass’s words.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given an abridged copy of “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?” and are asked to read it silently to themselves. The teacher should make certain that students understand that the original text has been abridged for this lesson. Explain the purpose and use of ellipses.
  2. The teacher then “share reads” the document with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  3. The teacher explains that the class will be analyzing the first part of the document today and that they will be learning how to do in-depth analysis for themselves. All students are given a copy of Summary Organizer #1. This contains the first selection from the speech.
  4. The teacher puts a copy of Summary Organizer #1 on display in a format large enough for all of the class to see (an overhead projector, Elmo projector, or similar device), and explains that today the whole class will be going through this process together.
  5. The teacher explains that the objective is to select “Key Words” from the first section and then use those words to create a few summary sentences that demonstrate understanding of what Douglass was saying in the first section of the document.
  6. Guidelines for selecting Key Words: Key Words contribute to the meaning of the text. They words are usually nouns or verbs. Don’t pick “connector” words (are, is, the, and, so, etc.). The number of Key Words depends on the length of the original paragraph. This selection is 275 words long, so the class can pick up to twelve Key Words. The other Key Words rule is that the students cannot select words they do not know the meaning of. There will be opportunities to teach students how to use context clues, word analysis, and dictionary skills to discover word meanings.
  7. Students will now select up to twelve words from the text that they believe are Key Words and write them in the box to the right of the text on their organizer.
  8. The teacher surveys the class to find out what the most popular choices were. The teacher can either tally this or just survey the class by a show of hands. Using this vote and some discussion the class should, with guidance from the teacher, decide on twelve Key Words. For example, let’s say that the class decides on the following words: slave, plantation, escaped, celebration, National Independence (you can allow two or three words as a Key Word on occasion if it makes sense) political freedom, America, young, stream, refreshing, angry, and dry up. Now, no matter which words the students had previously selected, the students will write the words agreed upon by the class or chosen by the teacher into the Key Word list on their organizers.
  9. The teacher now explains that the class will use these Key Words to write a few sentences that demonstrate summarize what Douglass was saying. This should be a class negotiation process. For example, “I escaped from a slave plantation. Today is a celebration of National Independence and political freedom, but America is a young country, a stream that can be refreshing or angry or just dry up.” You might find that the class decides they don’t need some of the words to make it even more streamlined. This is part of the negotiation process. The final negotiated sentences are copied into the organizer in the third section under the original text and key word sections.
  10. The teacher explains that the students will now restate their summary sentences in their own words, not having to use Douglass’ words. Again, this is a class negotiation process. For example, “I am an escaped slave here to talk about this young country’s freedom and future.”
  11. Wrap-up: The class can discuss vocabulary that the students found confusing or difficult. They could use the back of their organizers or a more formal vocabulary form to make a note of these words and their meaning.

Lesson 2

Objective

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July,” a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852. Through reading and analyzing the original text, the students will discover what is explicitly stated, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate their understanding by writing a succinct summary using the author’s words, and then restating that summary in the student’s own words. In this lesson the students will work both individually and in small groups.

Introduction

The teacher tells the students that they will be further exploring what Frederick Douglass was saying in the second selection from the “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?” speech by reading and understanding Douglass’s words, and then being able to restate, in their own words, the meaning of what he wrote. Today they will be working with partners and small groups in much the same way that they worked as a whole class yesterday.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given an abridged copy of the speech and are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The students and teacher discuss what they did yesterday and what they decided was the gist of the first selection.
  3. The teacher then share reads the second selection with the students.
  4. The teacher explains that the class will be analyzing the second part of the speech today. All students are given a copy of Summary Organizer #2 with the second selection from the speech.
  5. The teacher puts a copy of Summary Organizer #2 on display in a format large enough for all of the class to see (an overhead projector, Elmo projector, or similar device), and explains that today they will be going through the same process as yesterday but as partners and small groups.
  6. The guidelines for selecting these words are the same as they were yesterday. However, because this paragraph is shorter (234 words), they will select ten to twelve words. The students will be paired up and negotiate which Key Words to select. After they have decided on their words, both students will write those words in the Key Words box of their organizers.
  7. The teacher now puts two pairs together. These two pairs go through the same negotiation process to come up with their Key Words. The teacher should be strategic in forming the groups in order to ensure the most participation by all group members.
  8. The teacher explains that by using these Key Words the group will build a few sentences that summarize what Frederick Douglass was saying. The group negotiates to build those sentences. During this process, the teacher ensures that everyone is contributing to the process. It is very easy for one student to take control of the entire process and for the other students to let them do so. All of the students should write the group’s negotiated sentence(s) into their organizers.
  9. The teacher now asks for the groups to share out the summary sentences that they have created. This should start a teacher-led discussion that points out the qualities of the various attempts. How successful were the groups at getting at Douglass’s main idea and were they very careful to only use Douglass’s Key Words in doing so?
  10. The groups will now restate their summary sentences in their own words, not having to use Douglass’s words. Again, this is a group-negotiation process. After they have decided on a restatement, it should be written into their organizers. Again, the teacher should have the groups share out and discuss the clarity and quality of the groups’ attempts.
  11. Wrap-up: The class can discuss vocabulary that the students found confusing or difficult. They could use the back of their organizer or other vocabulary form to make a note of these words and their meaning.

Lesson 3

Objective

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July,” a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852. Through reading and analyzing the original text, the students will discover what is explicitly stated, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate understanding of the text by writing a succinct summary using the author’s words and then restating that summary in the student’s own words. In this lesson the students will be working individually unless you think that they still need to work in a group or with a partner.

Introduction

The teacher tells the students that they will be further exploring what Frederick Douglass was saying in the third section of his speech by reading and understanding Douglass’s words and then being able to restate, in their own words, the gist of what he was saying. Today they will be working by themselves on their summaries unless you think that they need another day working with a partner.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given an abridged copy of the speech and are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The students and teacher discuss what they did yesterday and what they decided was the meaning of the first and second selections.
  3. The teacher then share reads the third selection with the students.
  4. The teacher explains that the class will be analyzing the third selection from the speech today. All students are given a copy of Summary Organizer #3 with the third selection from “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?”
  5. The teacher puts a copy of Summary Organizer #3 on display in a format large enough for all of the class to see (an overhead projector, Elmo projector, or similar device). Explain that today they will be going through the same process as yesterday, but they will be working by themselves.
  6. The guidelines for selecting these words are the same as they were yesterday. This selection has 211 words so they can pick up to ten Key Words. The students select Key Words and write those words in the Key Words box of their organizers.
  7. The students will build a summary sentence that restates what Douglass was writing about, using Douglass’s Key Words, and write their summary sentence in their organizers.
  8. The students will then restate the summary sentence in their own words, not having to use Douglass’s words. This should be added to their organizers.
  9. The teacher now asks the students to share out the summary sentences they have created. This should start a teacher-led discussion that points out the qualities of the various attempts. How successful were the students at getting the gist of what Douglass was saying?
  10. Wrap-up: The class can discuss vocabulary that the students found confusing or difficult. They could use the back of their organizer or a vocabulary form to make a note of these words and their meaning.

Lesson 4

Objective

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July,” a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852. Through reading and analyzing the original text, the students will discover what is explicitly stated, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate these skills by writing a succinct summary using the author’s words and then restating that summary in the student’s own words. In this lesson the students will again be working individually.

Introduction

Tell the students that they will be further exploring what Frederick Douglas was saying in the fourth section of his speech by reading and understanding Douglass’s words and then being able to restate, in their own words, the gist of this section of his speech. Today they will be working by themselves on their summaries.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given an abridged copy of the speech and are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The students and teacher discuss what they did yesterday and what they decided was the meaning of the first, second, and third selections.
  3. The teacher then share reads the fourth selection with the students.
  4. The teacher explains that the class will be analyzing the fourth selection from “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?” All students are given a copy of Summary Organizer #4 with the fourth selection from the speech.
  5. The teacher puts a copy of Summary Organizer #4 on display in a format large enough for all of the class to see (an overhead projector, Elmo projector, or similar device), and explains that they will be going through the same process as yesterday, working by themselves.
  6. The guidelines for selecting these words are the same as they were yesterday. This selection has 278 words, so they can pick up to twelve Key Words. The students select Key Words and write those words in the Key Words box of their organizers.
  7. The students will then build a few sentences that summarize what Douglass was saying, using Douglass’s Key Words. The students should write the summary sentence into their organizers.
  8. The stuents then restate the summary sentence(s) in their own words, not having to use Douglass’s words. This should be added to their organizers.
  9. The teacher now asks for students to share out the sentences they have created. This should start a teacher-led discussion that points out the qualities of the various attempts. How successful were the students at understanding what Douglass was saying?
  10. Wrap-up: The class can discuss vocabulary that the students found confusing or difficult. They can use the back of their organizers to make a note of these words and their meaning.

Lesson 5

Objective

This lesson has two objectives. First, the students will synthesize the work of the last four days and demonstrate that they understand what Douglass was saying in “What to the Negro is the Fourth of July?” Second,  the students will write an argumentative essay that will require them to make inferences from the text and support their conclusions with explicit information from the text.   

Introduction

The teacher tells the students that they will first be reviewing what Frederick Douglass said in “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?” Second, the students will respond to a prompt in the form of a short argumentative essay. The teacher explains to the students that their conclusions must be backed up by evidence taken directly from Douglass’s speech.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given a copy of the abridged speech and then are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The teacher asks the students for their best personal summary of selection one. This is done as a class discussion. The teacher may write these short sentences on the overhead or similar device. The same procedure is used for selections two, three, and four. When they are, finished the class should have a summary, either written or oral, of the speech in only a few sentences. This should reinforce the students’ understanding of Douglass’s text.
  3. The teacher can decide to have the students write a short essay in response to one of the prompts in class or, if the students lack enough experience in writing an argumentative essay, the teacher can do a short lesson on constructing an argumentative essay before having the students address one of the prompts. If the latter is the case save the essay writing until the next class period or use as an out-of-class assignment. In either case, remind the students that any arguments they make must be backed up with evidence taken directly from “What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?” The first prompt is designed to be the easiest.

Prompts

  1. Where does Frederick Douglass place the blame for slavery in America, and how does he make that argument?
  2. Why does Frederick Douglass compare the United States to a river; and how may America avoid becoming “the sad tale of departed glory”?
  3. Why does Frederick Douglass refer to the audience as “you” or “your”? What arguments does Douglass make that reinforce this point of view?

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