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Reading asks question posed by Frederick Douglass: ‘What to the slaves is the Fourth of July?’

  • Reed Loy reads the second paragraph of Frederick Douglass’€™s speech to the crowd at Hopkinton Town Hall on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Heather Mitchell, executive director of the Hopkinton Historical Society, reads the first paragraph of the Frederick Douglass speech at the Hopkinton Town Hall on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The speech was projected onto the wall as people from the community read the speech out loud. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 7/4/2019 8:17:26 PM
Modified: 7/4/2019 8:17:16 PM

Dozens gathered in Hopkinton Town Hall on Wednesday for a public reading of one of the 19th century’s most well-known and powerful speeches by one of its greatest orators.

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass was asked to speak at an event in Rochester, N.Y., commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. African-Americans were barred from marching with white men’s parades on the official holiday, and July 5 was known as “Black Man’s Independence Day.”

So when Douglass gave his speech to mark this anniversary, he asked, “What to the slaves is the Fourth of July?”

More than a century and a half later, the speech remains a thought-provoking piece that confronts race relations while raising awareness of the role slavery and race continues to play in society.

More than 50 people filled the rows of benches set up in Hopkinton’s town hall for the reading. Thirty-four people, including school and town officials as well as faith leaders and members of surrounding communities, shared reading sections of the speech.

“It’s important to recognize that freedom for one group doesn’t necessarily mean freedom for all,” said Hopkinton Historical Society Executive Director Heather Mitchell.

Twelve communities across the state held public readings of Douglass’s speech on Wednesday. The events are put on by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, which aims to promote awareness and appreciation of African American history in the state. 

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