“The Fourth of July!” Here Douglass laughed sourly and speeded his pace.
“I understand you, Douglass, indeed I do!” Conkling said, but Douglass could not help but wonder at his purposes. White men often sought out his friendship when they felt themselves in trouble. “Has not our Party devoted itself to the well-being of the Negro? You yourself thanked the Party at the Convention that — ”
“The Party ignored me at the Convention.”
There was a flash of anger in Conkling’s eyes. “The Party made many mistakes at the Convention! I regret that I did not attend myself, but you must understand that as my name was placed in nomination, I was bound to exercise restraint.”
“I understand.” The etiquette of white men occasionally confounded Douglass.
“We shall move beyond those misunderstandings,” Conkling said. “Today we mark the onset of the great movement to emancipation — of our nation from tyranny, and of your people from slavery.”
Douglass and Conkling walked some distance together, toward an enormous tent that had been erected for the solemnities of the day. Vast crowds of people lined the fairways of the Centennial grounds — men in tailored suits and men in workmen’s rags; women in bonnets carrying umbrellas to protect against the blazing sun, and women in ragged cotton dresses; children with leather shoes holding pop-corn balls, and children with dirty bare feet. Douglass’s was the only black face.
“The Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” Douglass said. “You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.”
“That is not my intent,” Conkling began.
“‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,’ ” Douglass recited, silencing Conkling. “ ‘We wept when we remembered Zion. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ ”
“Those times are past, Douglass,” Conkling said. “Today we are brothers.”
Douglass walked in silence for a few moments.
“Thou art, verily, guilty concerning thy brother.”