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Posts Tagged ‘frederick douglass’

Not long ago, a teacher I work with as an English as a Second Language volunteer asked the class if, like us, their home countries had an independence day. They all did, but it seemed to me that independence from a colonizer hadn’t led to happily ever after. If their countries had flourished after gaining independence, I doubt any of them would have ended up in the USA.

It made me ask myself whether I could identify my own opinions on the building blocks of a successful country. Our recent national introspection has helped. We are looking closer at our history and asking ourselves if it’s really true we’re the only ones on the planet without a stain on our national character. Of course not.

One Glorious Fourth at the Robbins House, a freed slave’s preserved home in my town, I got to hear the whole Declaration of Independence read aloud, and I winced about items I hadn’t remembered, such as the wording about King George using the local “savages” against the colonists. Even more revelatory that day was a reading of Frederick Douglass’s speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (Read it here.)

So what makes a country that lives up to its ideals after independence? For starters, I’d say that all adults vote. The corollary to that is that everyone gets a good education so their votes will be informed and based on facts.

Then there are a few things we managed to get into our constitution, things that need to be eternally protected, like the right to free speech and the freedom of the press — to uncover government corruption, for example. There needs to be a structure that enables local resources to be used for good jobs so that people can have homes and other requirements met. There needs to be a fair system of justice in which wrongs are righted as much as possible.

When I think of ESL students from, say, Guatemala, I know that a country’s resources are not always used fairly for all the people. If that were so, those students wouldn’t have become immigrants. The resources have continued to be plundered after “independence,” the government is corrupt, the press is not allowed to say so, and gangs fight everyone over the little that is left.

My knowledge of these things is not deep, but off the cuff, that’s how see what a country needs to be a successful democracy, and I’m hoping you will add some of the important things I’m sure I’ve forgotten. I wonder if we began to think of this holiday as Independence and Introspection Day, we might move a little closer every year to our ideals.

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It’s been sweltering in Southern New England lately, but one doesn’t want to stay indoors all summer.

Taking pictures can be a distraction from the heat. Some of the pictures I’m posting may actually look like they were taken on a cool day, but take my word for it, they weren’t. Even the indoor photo of my grandson and his construction project reminds me it was too hot to play outside last Thursday.

So, here’s what I have: A weed by the dry cleaner’s, Ragged Sailor (chicory) beside a lichen-covered rock, a Fourth of July reading outside the home of a former slave who fought in the American Revolution, my grandson, boats moored in New Shoreham’s Old Harbor, the Indian burying ground at Isaac’s Corner, a city scene on the Painted Rock, Crescent Beach swimmers, Bouncing Bet flowers at Fresh Pond, and yours truly reading Evicted and trying to stay cool.

To expand on a couple of these: I’m told that the Manissean Indians in the cemetery were buried standing up so they could walk into the next life.

And the Fourth of July reading at the home of ex-slave Caesar Robbins was amazing. First the Declaration of Independence was read, which was an eye opener for me because I remembered only the first lines.

Next, anyone who wanted to could read aloud a section of Frederick Douglass’s powerful 1852 Fourth of July speech on the lack of independence for so many people on that Independence Day. Hearing this speech, I could readily imagine how Douglass’s soaring rhetoric helped pave the way for the Civil War and Emancipation.

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I probably wouldn’t have known that Frederick Douglass spent time in Ireland if I hadn’t read the Colum McCann novel TransAtlantic. McCann likes to take historical events of different time periods and imagine the parts we can’t really know. In TransAtlantic, he wove together a historic 1919 flight from Canada to Ireland, the Douglass lecture tour of Ireland and his horrified witness to the famine there, a servant girl’s emigration to the United States and her role in the Civil War, and the rather thrilling negotiations to bring resolution to the Troubles between Protestants in Northern Ireland and Catholics.

According to an initiative called the Douglass/O’Connell Project, “Douglass was greeted in Dublin, Belfast, and Cork by enthusiastic crowds and formed many friendships on his trip, most significantly with Daniel O’Connell, a figure still revered in Ireland today for his role in Catholic emancipation and his fierce opposition to slavery. O’Connell and Douglass shared the stage just once, in September 1845 at a rally in Dublin, but retained a mutual respect and affection until O’Connell’s death less than two years later — and Douglass acknowledged O’Connell’s influence on his philosophy and worldview for the rest of his life.

“The Frederick Douglass/Daniel O’Connell Project is a living legacy to the leadership of these two men and the causes they championed by strengthening the bonds of friendship between Ireland and the United States, encouraging greater understanding between the diasporas of Africa and Ireland in America, and fighting injustice and human rights abuses throughout the world.”

Which brings me to how I happened to be able to take a photo of the Irish statue of Douglass today. The Center for Race Amity in Boston is partnering with the Douglass/O’Connell Project on a celebration this weekend, before the statue goes on tour. Isn’t it magnificent? Andrew Edwards is the sculptor.

There will be a preview of the public television film Douglass and O’Connell Saturday at the Museum of African American History at 7 pm, followed by a lecture by Don Mullen, the author of Bloody Sunday. On Sunday there will be festivities in the Greenway from 1 pm to 5 pm.

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