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Humanities Council Brings Historic Frederick Douglass Fourth of July Speech to Vermont Communities

Image of three Reading Frederick Douglass participants

Statewide—For the fifth consecutive year, communities around Vermont will host participatory public readings of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s famous 1852 Independence Day speech on or around July 4. To date, 22 communities have signed up for the free readings that offer an important historic perspective on the meaning of independence.

Participating communities include towns large and small across the state such as Colchester, Montpelier, Tunbridge, Worcester, Manchester, St. Johnsbury, and North and South Hero. Readings are held in libraries, town halls, on town greens, and other venues. See the full list of Reading Frederick Douglass events.

In 1852, Douglass, one of the nation’s greatest orators and abolitionists, was asked to speak at an event 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. Many participants and observers are struck by the intensity and continued relevance of Douglass’s words. Tyler Alexander, who helped organize a reading at the Old Stone House Museum in Derby in 2017, said, “Some of the readers were obviously choked with emotion as they read. We held a discussion after the speech, in which many of the members compared the political turbulence of the 1850s with the political turbulence of our own time.”

2018 marks the fifth year the Vermont Humanities Council has sponsored the Reading Frederick Douglass program. Four towns took part in 2014, 14 in 2015, 20 in 2016, and 30 in 2017. The program began as a communal reading of the speech at Brown Bag lunches at Community Change, Inc. (CCI)’s Library on Racism in Boston, Massachusetts.

For more information, contact Paul Marcus at (802) 695-2968 or Tess Taylor, Director of Community Programs, at (802) 262-1356.

The Vermont Humanities Council is a private nonprofit working to bring the power and the pleasure of the humanities to all Vermonters—of every background and in every community. The Council seeks to engage all Vermonters in the world of ideas, foster a culture of thoughtfulness, and inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning. Because Ideas Matter.