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Reading Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass and the Emancipation Proclamation at 150

July 3, 2013 | By Federal/State Partnership Staff

Fellow citizens, 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 today?
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?  --Frederick Douglass, July 6, 1862

This Fourth of July, Mass Humanities seeks to encourage a moment of reflection on the state of democracy at home before indulging in the now traditional activities of outdoor grilling and fireworks. Frederick Douglass did just that on July 5, 1852 with his speech “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro,” where he publicly took exception to being asked to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

For the fifth year since the program’s inception, Mass Humanities is sponsoring rereadings of Frederick Douglass’ speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro.” Additionally, organizers are encouraged to pair Douglass’ speech with a joint reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, honoring the 150th anniversary of this important document. This year, state officials and lawmakers, including Governor Deval Patrick, gathered together on July 2, 2013 at Boston Common to participate in the reading of both these documents. Video of the event is available.

Reading Frederick Douglass is a statewide, multi-year initiative that encourages collaboration with local groups to organize public, shared readings of Douglass’ pivotal 1852 speech. The program started in 2009 with one public reading and drew a crowd of 100 people. In 2011, events involved more than 70 organizations and in 2012 drew more than 650 people. Reading Frederick Douglass was honored with the 2012 Schwartz Prize from the Federation of State Humanities Councils for Best Overall Program. Judges noted that this program was impressive because it “crossed divisions of race, age, education and ethnicity while engaging audiences new to the humanities.”

For more information and event details for specific cities, please visit Mass Humanities event calendar.