To kick off a series of statewide public communal readings of Frederick Douglass’s fiery speech of 157 years ago, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro,” Massachusetts politicians and citizens will read and discuss it together at noon on Tuesday, June 2nd in front of the State House.
Citizens, community groups, libraries, towns, organizations, families, and individuals then will be invited to participate in the project by organizing their own shared readings of the speech leading up to this Fourth of July weekend. MassHumanities will make the text and accompanying materials available to the public here as of May 6th.
We are proud to cosponsor this event along with MassHumanities, Community Change Inc., the Ella Baker House, Boston African American National Historic Site, and others.
On July 5, 1852, Douglass, a former slave and leading abolitionist, delivered this speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Rochester, NY. In it, he took his audience to task. “Fellow-citizens,” he began, “why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”
In this, the bicentennial year of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, this public program aims to help us take up the challenge leveled by then-Senator Obama at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia last year: “I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle. Race is an issue this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. To work for ‘a more perfect union’ we need to start to understand [its] complexities in this country that we’ve never really worked through. [This] requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point.”