Douglass Events

2015 Events

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2014 Events

June 28, 2014, 1:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Amherst Common, Amherst

About 125 people gathered on the Common to witness the live- theater performance of Reading Frederick Douglass by a cast of about 15 readers. Beginning with an ancestral invocation, the reading, directed by Ingrid Askew, was dramatically performed and interspersed with song by the Amherst Area Gospel Choir, directed by Jacqueline Wallace. Immediately following, about 40 people participated in a discussion facilitated by Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, UMass Amherst. The planning committee for this inaugural reading was the Sojourner Truth Committee, Leverett Peace Commission, Amherst Human Rights Commission, David Ruggles Center and Mass Humanities.

July 1, 2014, 12:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
City Hall Plaza, Worcester

About 40 people gathered at the Worcester Common to read “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” The theme of this year’s event, Passing the Torch, was appropriately attended by many young people. This was the 4th year in Worcester; Future Focus Media has been the lead organizer for the past 3 years. This year’s reading was the culmination of a partnership that included the City of Worcester, Office of Cultural Development, the Worcester Public Library, The United States Park Rangers, Our Stories Ent, the Worcester Youth Center, Boys and Girls Club of Worcester and a host of others. Funding was provided by Worcester Arts Council, through Mass Cultural Council, supported by Mass Humanities.

July 2, 2014, 12:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Boston Common – at the State House/Shaw-MA 54th Memorial, Boston

Close to 200 people gathered in the withering noonday heat at the Shaw/MA 54th Monument on the Boston Common for the sixth annual communal reading of Frederick Douglass’ Fourth of July speech. The event was opened by Paula Elliot, who sang the musical history of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Readers included House Speaker DeLeo, Commander Harrington and members of the MA 54th Regiment, and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree. The featured readers, however, were interested citizens and passers-by, as well as a large crowd reading along. (Watch a short video from WGBH’s Basic Black on the Boston event.)

July 2, 2014, 12:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Federated Church of Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard

Seventy-five people gathered at the historic Federated church in Edgartown, where Douglass spoke in 1857, to witness 16 readers take turns delivering the speech against the backdrop of Ruth De-Wilde Major’s large scale portrait of Frederick Douglass. The Friends of the Edgartown Library and The Edgartown Public Library was the main organizers.

July 2, 2014, 5:30-7:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
New Bedford Historical Society, 21 7th St, New Bedford

A communal reading of the fiery July 5, 1852, speech in which Frederick Douglass took exception to being asked to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

July 3, 2014, 6:00 – 9:00 PM

Fourth Annual Reading of Frederick Douglass’ Speech
High Rock Tower in Lynn

At this 4th annual reading, ordinary citizens, young and old from the Lynn area, School Committee member Rick Starbard and Ward Councilor Hong Net spoke Douglass’ rousing words before a crowd of 200 at High Rock Tower, the historic home of the Hutchinson family singers. The reading was central to Lynn’s 4th of July celebration which included song, musical and dance performances and an abbreviated reading of the Declaration of Independence from Revolutionary re-enactor Dave Hill. The Highland Coalition was lead organizer.

July 3, 2014, 12:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
City Hall Steps, Springfield

On the steps of City Hall, a small group persevered the sweltering 90 degree heat for the 4th annual reading. (State) Rep. Benjamin Swan and Mayor Sarno were among the readers. The discussion afterwards, led by Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, UMass Amherst, was small but thorough.

July 4, 2014, 12:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
The Robbins House, 320 Monument St., across from the Old Manse & North Bridge, Concord (rain location: Under the Old Manse tent)

It started at noon on July 4th, inside Robbins House, with the tail of hurricane Arthur whipping around. The room was packed; by noon there was standing room only, probably 40 people. Guy Peartree, a Frederick Douglass re-enactor, invited people from the audience to read paragraphs, and indicated those with special import. The question and answer period that followed was rich with discussion, and Guy slipped in and out of character depending on the question. This event was organized by The Drinking Gourd Project, Inc.

July 19, 2014, 3:30 – 5:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Pitts Park, Columbus Avenue, Pittsfield

Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival, the Samuel Harrison House and the NAACP of Berkshire County will host a community reading of the famous Frederick Douglass’ speech at the Gather-In Pitts Park, Pittsfield. In its 41st year, the Gather-In is the oldest African American celebration in the Berkshires. In his speech, Douglass took exception to being asked to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

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2013 Events

June 19, 2013, 6:00 – 8:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Nathan and Mary Johnson House, 21 Seventh Street, New Bedford

About fifty people gathered at the New Bedford Historical Society to read, listen, and also talk about what has changed in race relations over their lifetime at the New Bedford Historical Society. After the collective reading of the speech, participants in their late 70s talked about the changes in housing discrimination, in employment opportunities, and in dating and marriage during their lifetimes. A few people also talked about the changes for African-Americans in popular TV programming in the past 40 or 50 years.

June 20, 2013, 8:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Down Street Art Festival Opening, North Adams

On a very warm and sunny evening, a crowd of about 70 gathered on Main Street in North Adams for a communal reading of Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech. It was organized in collaboration with the Berkshires’ Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival and various North Adams organizations.

July 1, 2013, 12:00 PM

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
City Hall Plaza, Worcester

The third annual reading of Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech in Worcester took place at the newly restored City Steps. Opened by a chorus of young voices, the event drew about fifty people. Fortunately, the impending rain held off until the very moment the reading ended, but drowned out the scheduled discussion. The program was funded in part by a grant from the Worcester Arts Council.

July 2, 2013, 12:00 PM

Reading Frederick Douglass and the Emancipation Proclamation
Boston Common – at the State House/Shaw-MA 54th Memorial, Boston (Rain location: Nurses Hall, State House)

A rousing crowd of 400 gathered to participate in the fifth annual reading at the 54th Memorial on the Boston Common. Singer Paula Elliott started off the event with a rousing musical rendition of the history of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. (video) Governor Patrick began the reading, followed by politicians, members of various Boston cultural and civic organizations, the National Park Service, youth members of the Boston NAACP, and members of the public. The event netted a write-up in the Boston Globe and even TV coverage on Channel 22.   (video)

July 3, 2013, 6:00 – 9:00 PM

Third Annual Reading of Frederick Douglass’ Speech at High Rock Tower in Lynn
Top of Circuit Avenue off High Rock Street, Lynn

About hundred people participated in the 3rd annual Frederick Douglass reading-cum-festival at High Rock Tower in Lynn. The event, which was emcee’d by Walnut da lyrical Genie, was a festival that included pony rides, young Haitian-style dancers, music from the heyday of protest, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and the incomparable Julio Barre. (photos)

July 6, 2013, 3:15 PM (approximately)

Reading “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Daring to Dream, Mass MoCA, North Adams

Area youth and young adult spoken-word poets who were part of the Mass MoCA and Lift Ev’ry Voice Daring to Dream program were joined by passers-by in the museum for a reading of Frederick Douglass’ July 4th speech. The event was followed by a short discussion moderated by group leaders. (photo)

August 4, 2013, afternoon

Reading of Frederick Douglass’ Speech
Arrowhead, 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield

The Arrowhead reading, attended by about 25 people, was part of the Berkshire Historical Society’s summer-long celebration of the Massachusetts 54th regiment, and of the Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival. Frederick Douglass recruited for the regiment in Pittsfield in 1863. The reading, which had been slated to take place besides Mike Melle’s straw sculptures honoring the 54th, was moved into the barn because of thunderstorms. Robert Wallace (Douglass and Melville, 2005) introduced the event. (Press)

2012 Events

June 28, 2012, 11:30 AM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Frederick Douglass Returns to Springfield
Museum Quadrangle and Springfield City Library, Springfield

Enlivened by an encampment of re-enactors of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment’s Stone Soul Peter Brace Brigade, the 2012 reading was opened by young actors of The Performance Project, Underground Railroad interpreters, and Dr. Kamal Ali (Westfield State). Some seventy people, including performing artists from the Drama Studio and Enchanted Circle, participated in the reading, and twenty of them followed up with a lively discussion with Dr. Ali and Dr. Huguette Williams (STCC) in the cool library rotunda.

July 2, 2012, 12:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Frederick Douglass at the Massachusetts State House
Boston Common – at the State House/Shaw-MA 54th Memorial, Boston – (VIDEO)

More than 250 people gathered at the Shaw/Mass. 54th Memorial on Boston Common for the Fourth Annual Frederick Douglass reading. Paula Giddings opened the event with a Song of the Abolitionist/Come by Here medley. About sixty people participated in the reading, including members of the Patrick administration, Massachusetts 54th re-enactors, civil rights leaders, and members of the public. Representative Byron Rushing (D, Roxbury) read the last paragraph. Baritone Judge Milton Wright closed the hour-long event.

July 3, 2012, 6:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: A Communal Reading of a lecture by Frederick Douglass
High Rock Park, Lynn – (PHOTOS)

With history-inspired pony rides, a concert with six performers, a poetry reading by Albanian Immigrant poet Rozi Teohari, the celebration of free speech that Lynn organizations built around Reading Frederick Douglass was once again festive and solemn. High Rock Tower Park, home of the abolitionist Hutchinson Family Singers, has been the Fourth of July celebration site in Lynn for well over a century. Participants ranged in age from seven to seventy, and hailed from almost as many different backgrounds as there were participants. The evening ended, to match Douglass fiery words, with fireworks in Lynn and surrounding communities.

July 5, 2012, 12:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Reading Frederick Douglass during the Presidency of Barack Obama
City Hall Common, Worcester

The second annual reading of Frederick Douglass Fourth of July address in Worcester took place on the 160th anniversary of the speech. Approximately 110 people attended, following well-attended Worcester history walking tours. Worcester NAACP President, Cedric Arno inspired the crowd with an eloquent and fiery reminder that it is incumbent on us to vote if we want to have a voice in civil rights. Holy Cross’ local history specialist Tom Doughton opened the reading, followed by a long line of civic and community leaders as well as Worcester residents of varying backgrounds. If you missed your turn, the crowd was reminded at the end, you can do this at home or wait till next year.

2011 Events

October 15, 2011, 2:00 PM

Frederick Douglass Then and Now
Second Congregationalist Church, Park Street, Attleboro

Thirty people, including the Chairman of the Attleboro City Council, participated in a reading of Fredrick Douglass Fourth of July Speech organized by the Attleboro Council on Human Rights and other organizations. The reading went quite smoothly with two podiums and two mikes. Participants found the speech very moving and many were surprised at its relevance for today. Afterwards, moderator Sam Coale (Wheaton College) led a spirited discussion after the speech which involved many of those in attendance. He also highlighted the skillful was in which Douglass organized the speech and the fact that he ended on a “hopeful” note.

June 29, 2011, 12:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Reading Frederick Douglass during the Presidency of Barack Obama
City Hall steps, Springfield

Springfield’s June 1 twister and aftermath pushed the second annual Douglass reading across the street to sun-baked the steps of City Hall. (State) Rep. Benjamin Swan started the reading, which was supported by some twenty local organizations and attended by an audience of about 130 (including Mayor Sarno). Undisputed champions of the event were a group of children from The Drama Studio, who read together in a rhythm that was hard to resist. The discussion afterwards, led by Amilcar Shabazz, Chair of African-American Studies at UMass Amherst, was small but thorough.

June 30, 2011, 12:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Frederick Douglass at the Massachusetts State House
Boston Common – steps in front of State House, Boston

A lunchtime crowd of about 160 showed up for the third annual reading on Boston Common, which took on ceremonial overtones that promised further readings. Roxbury Judge Milton L. Wright, Jr. opened the event with a resounding “Let My People Go,” (State) Rep. Byron Rushing introduced the speech. Readers included members of the Patrick administration, the 54th Massachusetts (“Glory”) Regiment, Boston civil rights leaders and members of the general public. The only hitch was that the Common is under construction, which caused the reading to block the sidewalk. However, the next day’s Boston Globe brought evidence that even some tourists were very pleased to have attended the reading.

July 3, 2011, 6:30 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: A Communal Reading of a lecture by Frederick Douglass
High Rock Park, Lynn (If rain: Robert L. Ford School, 49 Hollingsworth St) – (PHOTOS)

The crowning Douglass event of 2011 was a reading at Lynn’s High Rock Tower, supported by 34 entities. Despite rain, thunder, and canceled fireworks, at least 120 people ventured onto the exposed promontory, which was accompanied not only by a concert, but also food stalls and pony rides, inspired by nineteenth-century July 4 celebrations. Volunteers improvised an awning for performers and readers. The reading was surrounded by performances ranging from rap by Walnut da Lyrical Geni and dancing by Green Tea Cru to abolition songs, beautifully rendered by Maggi and Jim Dalton. Local historian Julia Greene spoke about Douglass’ residence in Lynn from 1841 to 1847. Reading of the speech proceeded ceremonially, readers descending the steps between audience members under loud applause. Paragraphs were read in Haitian and Khmer. At last word, the organizers are picking a date for next year.

June 24, 2011, 12:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Reading Frederick Douglass during the Presidency of Barack Obama
City Hall Common, Worcester – (VIDEO)

Many of the 70-odd people who braved a persistent drizzle to attend the reading on the steps of City Hall in Worcester were much moved and fired-up by the experience. The speech was introduced by Carlton Watson of the Willis Center and Holy Cross emeritus historian John Anderson, who explained what a hotbed of activism Worcester was during the middle of years of the nineteenth century. The Mayor participated. One woman read with borrowed glasses. One man, who walked by at lunch hour without having known about the event, participated, and liked it so much his organization will be collaborating in next year’s promised event.

2010 Events

July 1, 2010, 12:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Frederick Douglass at the Massachusetts State House
Boston Common – steps in front of State House, Boston

150 joined us in a shared public reading of a masterful and rousing speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro.” The Speech was introduced by Douglass scholar John Stauffer (Harvard), and the State Representative Byron Rushing (D, Roxbury) who is a local historian. Members of the Patrick Administration, civil rights leaders, and members of the public participated in the reading. Readers and audience were happy, and organizers promised another reading next year.

June 30, 2010, 12:00 PM

The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro: Reading Frederick Douglass during the Presidency of Barack Obama
Court Square Park and Old First Church, Springfield

Serenaded by the Ladies of Faith Ensemble, 75 people gathered in Springfield’s Court Square Park for a communal reading of Frederick Douglass’s fiery 1852 Fourth of July speech to mark this year as the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. John Grayson of Mount Holyoke College provided a short introduction to the speech, and (State) Representative Benjamin Swan opened the reading with a stentorian rendition of Douglass’ words, setting a great example. Students from the Paul Dunbar School participated in the reading, as did many citizens and a few passers-by. The Pan African History Museums and the Olive Tree Bookshop were present with information tables. Following the reading, Professor Grayson led a spirited discussion in the Old First Church, attended by about a dozen people, including local historian and Editor-in-Chief of the Springfield Republican, Wayne Phaneuf.

June 30, 2010, 12:00 PM

Reading Frederick Douglass – New Bedford
New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, 33 William Street, New Bedford

Chased inside by torrential downpours, a group of about twenty-five people took turns reading Frederick Douglass the fiery July 5, 1852, speech in New Bedford. Douglass lived in New Bedford for some years and the event had been scheduled on what is usually a busy AHA! Downtown Cultural Night (everything in historic New Bedford is open and free), to attract local residents as well as visitors. A New Bedford Historical Society Douglass tour and a discussion, led by followed the reading.