A public reading of one of the 19th century’s most famous speeches will take place at noon on July 3rd at Hopkinton Town Hall in Hopkinton, N.H.
“What to the Slaves is the Fourth of July?” asked Frederick Douglass in 1852. Douglass, one of our nation’s greatest orators and abolitionists, was asked to speak at an event in commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In his provocative speech, Douglass said, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?” Douglass’s speech remains emotionally powerful and thought-provoking more than a century and a half after he gave it.
People of all ages and different walks of life are asked to gather at noon at the Hopkinton Town Hall located at 330 Main St. to take turns reading parts of the speech until the entire speech has been read. Community leaders around the country participate in these readings—people such as town officials, teachers and activists, the police and fire chiefs, and heads of key organizations come together with ordinary neighborhood folk.
Reading Frederick Douglass causes us to think in new ways about our nation’s history, affords opportunities to open up discourse about race relations and citizenship, and raises awareness of the role slavery and race continue to play in our history and national discourse.
The abolition of slavery was set in motion in New York state on July 5, 1799. This speech was first given by Douglass on the 5th of July, which was called “Black Man’s Independence Day” because Blacks were not allowed to march in white men’s parades. Their own parades would get disrupted by whites if they tried to march on the 4th of July.
Libraries, churches, historical societies, community service groups, social justice organizations, and schools are encouraged to participate in the reading.
This free public event is sponsored in part by Eastern Bank and is a program of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire (BHTNH) in collaboration with Hopkinton Historical Society. The BHTNH mission is to promote awareness and appreciation of African American history and culture in New Hampshire by celebrating the resilience, versatility, and courage of African American people that has enabled its culture, values, and traditions to survive for 400 years. BHTNH works to visibly honor and celebrate a truer more inclusive history of New Hampshire through exhibits, programs and tours that can change the way our country understands human dignity when it is free of historical stereotypes.
Contact Heather Mitchell at the Hopkinton Historical Society if you would like to read part of Douglass’s speech. Email email@example.com or call 603-746-3825.
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