Reading Frederick Douglass Together

Thursday, July 2, 2020 | 6:30 pm
View the event recording above.


This event was a huge success and was featured on CBS Sunday News with Jane Pauley, the Harvard Gazette and the Somerville Times!

The Somerville Museum hosted a reading of Frederick Douglass’ famous address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” delivered to an AntiSlavery Society in 1852. We were part of a number of communities across the Commonwealth that read this address together every year and reflecting on our present and past.
Given the current pandemic conditions, this event looked different than last year. With the help of the Somerville Media Center, we created a video that consisted of a collection of people pre-recording themselves reading sections of the famous speech. We played the video on a live Zoom event on Thursday, July 2nd followed by a discussion led by Keidrick Roy, our project scholar, who is a graduate student at Harvard University concentrating in American Studies and a Somerville resident.

Keidrick Roy is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Harvard University. His dissertation explores race, religion, and political philosophy in European and American intellectual history. In 2018 Keidrick co-curated an exhibit on the postbellum writings of Frederick Douglass for the American Writers Museum in Chicago, and he is currently working on an exhibition for the Houghton Library at Harvard University entitled “Reframing the Racial State.” Keidrick is a former military nuclear operations officer and Instructor of English at the United States Air Force Academy. Keidrick is a Somerville Museum and Advisory Council member, and will be leading our Summer Discussion Series, “Race, Fragility, and Anti-Racism” beginning on July 1st.

The cost for this event was free, and all are encouraged to participate.
A link with event information will be sent prior to the event.
Donations are always welcome (

This event and program is supported and funded by Mass Humanities and NEH.
Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

**UPDATE** Our first reading event was a huge success! See below for images from the event. Special thanks to Bow Market and Mass Humanities for helping us make this event happen. Hopefully, this will become annual.


Link to Declaration of Independence (selected passages)

How: The Somerville Museum received a sponsorship from Mass Humanities to coordinate a public reading of Frederick Douglass’s famous Fourth of July address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Mass Humanities gives these sponsorships annually for readings by organizations with communities around the state. A group of people take turns reading parts of the speech until they have read all of it. Where and how they do it and what they do before and after, are all up to the local event planners.

What: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” is the title now given to a speech by Frederick Douglass delivered on July 5, 1852, in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. The speech may be the most widely known of all his writings except his autobiographies.

While referring to the celebrations of the American Independence day the day before, the speech explores the constitutional and values-based arguments against the Slave trade within the United States. Douglass suggests that positive statements about American values, such as liberty, citizenship, and freedom, were an offense to the enslaved people of the United States because of their lack of freedom, liberty, and citizenship. Douglass refers to the captivity of enslaved people, their exploitation and the cruelty and torture to which they were subjected while enslaved.

Why: We read this speech because Douglass’ words are still relevant today. It opens up a discussion on race and citizenship and it’s important to continue this conversation.