Frederick Douglass was and is that dude.
A master orator, Douglass often found himself in uncomfortable spaces of racial agitation and disfunction. Due to his past experiences as a slave, however, Douglass floated through these social landmines effortlessly and fluidly. He epitomized the fear of black men - tall, dark, and educated. In his powerful speech "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?" delivered July 5th, 1852, Douglass found himself in front of a northern white audience of anti-slavery empathizers. What he did, however, was not thank them blindly for their concern over his enslaved brethen. He did not hambone. He hit them in the THOAT! Yes, folks, thoat.
Douglass advertently fires shots at the hypocrisy of a WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) nation celebrating freedom yet enslaving a people believed to be inferior and inhuman. I'd like to propose a different way to address this critical gem of African American thought. Douglass, in his mastery of oration, introduces another trait of intellectual prowess to his delivery - satirical eloquence.
While I cannot suggest that there were not sincere empathizers and abolitionists in Douglass' audience, I'd like to push this conversation further by inferring that there were members of his audience that came to the speech for entertainment. A (former) black male slave who was eloquent enough to speak in public? Blasphemy! And Douglass, while preparing for his oration, was probably conscious of these attendants.
I was not put on to Douglass' speech until the end of my undergraduate career. It is the type of text that needs repeated readings because of its richness in allusion, imagery, and anger. Douglass' strong sense of wit arguably places him as one of the early satirists of African American culture. Gotta laugh to keep from crying.
If you are interested in further scholarship surrounding Frederick Douglass' 5th of July speech, please see James Colaiaco's Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July (2006). Also, please see below James Earl Jones' reading of this revolutionary text.
Happy 5th of July!