When you think of “Independence Day” what do you think about?
There is a growing curiosity and interest in Black history in response to Black Lives Matter and the events of the past two years. When, on June 17, 2021, President Biden signed legislation establishing June 19 Juneteenth National Independence Day, thereby declaring it a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., another historic milestone was reached for African Americans and the descendants of slavery and for the country as a whole.
The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire (BHTNH) offers yet another opportunity to learn about Black history. Please join in one of thirteen community readings of what is considered by many to be a “rhetorical masterpiece,” as we take time to reflect on the significance of July 4, 1776. This year’s readings will take place in Claremont, Concord, Dover, Exeter, Hopkinton, Lebanon, Nashua, Manchester, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Rochester, Rollinsford, and Warner.
In the famous speech in which he asked, “What to the slave is your Fourth of July?” Frederick Douglass delivered a blistering indictment of an American idealism that ignored and accepted the inhuman treatment of enslaved African Americans as part of the nation’s identity and economy. His words still ring with an unsettling power today.
For the past several years, on July 3rd, the BHTNH has collaborated with community leaders around the Granite State to bring people together to read Douglass’s historic protest speech and to reflect on its meaning. It is the hope of the BHTNH that these readings will provide opportunities for all of us to engage in deeper conversations that will lead to actions toward building more inclusive and just communities today.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery sometime around 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. He became one of the most famous intellectuals of his time, advising presidents and lecturing to thousands on a range of causes, including women’s rights and Irish home rule. A fiery orator, Douglass’s speeches were often published in various abolitionist newspapers. Among his well-known speeches is “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” presented in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, a version of which he published as a booklet. There were approximately 500 people in attendance. Douglass had been invited to speak about what the Fourth of July means for America’s Black population, and while the first part of his speech praised what the founding fathers did for this country, his speech soon developed into a condemnation of the attitude of American society toward slavery.
The mission of the BHTNH is to promote awareness and appreciation of African American history and life in order to build more inclusive communities today. With recent events, this mission is more important now than ever. It is in this spirit that you are invited to join a live, in-person community reading at one of the group gatherings across the state on Saturday, July 3, 2021. For more information about times and locations, please go to www.blackheritagetrailnh.org or call (603)-570-8469.