Posted: 07/09/2021 10:32:12 AM
It was gratifying to see an article on Sunday’s Reading Frederick Douglass Together event on the front page of the Gazette (“What have I … to do with your national independence?” July 5) and excerpts from Douglass’ speech on the Editorial Page.
When South Congregational Church in Amherst considered applying for a grant from Mass Humanities to fund a reading of “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” we envisioned a small event that would engage church members involved in discussions about racial justice and civic initiatives with others in the community who are concerned about these issues.
We never dreamed it would get as big as it did, with 43 readers from a cross section of Amherst and beyond and an audience of 200, according to the Gazette. We are indebted not only to Mass Humanities, but also to Interfaith Opportunities Network, which promoted the event to its member congregations, many of whom were represented in the readership list. Special thanks are also due to the Amherst Area Gospel Choir, who opened the event with a message of resilience and love, and UMass African-American studies professor Amilcar Shabazz, who provided the context. history of the speech and facilitated a stimulating discussion. on its relevance today.
Readers were aged 7 to 70 and over; some read parts of the speech in Spanish and one in Infant, a language of Ghana. They included students, teachers, government officials, activists and many others who care about social justice. The passion with which they delivered Douglass’s words was touching and inspiring.
It’s hard to hear much of what Douglass has to say (“There isn’t a nation on earth guilty of more shocking and bloody practices than the people of this United States are at this hour. same. ”) because, as many reading participants pointed out, so much of the discourse is still applicable today.
There is a lot to honor July 4th – as Douglass himself acknowledges – but it reminds us of the hard work we still need to do to address the injustices of our past and the injustices of our present. Although 169 years have passed since he delivered the speech, we could still agree with Douglass that we “are, even now, only at the beginning of [our] national career, still lingering in the period of childhood ”, at least in terms of fulfilling the promises of the Declaration of Independence. He finds hope in this thought, “and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds lowering above the horizon.”
Dark clouds over Amherst gave way to the sun on July 4. So be it in our national climate.
Bruce M. Penniman, of Amherst, is a member of the South Church Amherst Church Board and the Reading Frederick Douglass Together Planning Committee.