With sponsorship from Mass Humanities, the state affiliate for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Worcester State will host an online reading and discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 9, of Frederick Douglass’s influential speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass, a famed orator, gave this address in Rochester, N.Y., in 1852, having been invited to speak at a celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. He escaped from slavery in 1838 and settled with his wife in New Bedford. He became a prolific writer, powerful orator, and one of the most prominent African American intellectuals of the 19th century. Editing a series of Abolitionist newspapers, he also wrote three best-selling autobiographies, advised Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, served as U.S. consul general to Haiti, and achieved international recognition for his work on behalf of human rights.
On Sept. 9, a panel of 18 students, faculty, staff, administrators, community members, and distinguished guests—including President Barry Maloney, Provost Lois Wims, U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, WSU General Counsel Stacey Luster, Worcester Poet Laureate Juan Matos, and community leader Cedric Arno—will read substantial portions of Douglass’s address and discuss its enduring power from historical, political, literary, and cultural perspectives.
Tanya Mears, Ph.D., associate professor of history; Hardeep Sidhu, Ph.D., assistant professor of English; and Heather Treseler, Ph.D., associate professor of English, collaborated on the grant application to Mass Humanities this summer. Professor Sidhu noted, “Douglass’s speech still challenges us. What do the symbols we wield—holidays, flags, statues—mean to Black Americans? And are white Americans willing to make our society meet its promise?”
This online one-hour event, open to the public, requires pre-registration on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/reading-frederick-douglass-together-registration-118605567445?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&aff=escb&utm-source=cp&utm-term=listing. The panelists will read from Douglass’s speech, and the audience is welcome to add to the discussion with comments and questions.
Written by Heather Treseler, Ph.D.
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