Janet Q. Nelson: Honoring independence, freedom

An engraving of Frederick Douglass as a young man.

An engraving of Frederick Douglass as a young man. FILE

Published: 07-08-2024 4:15 PM

Modified: 07-09-2024 10:53 AM

The Fourth of July is celebrated across the country with flags and parades. Here in Northampton, Historic Northampton has provided us with another, deeply thoughtful way to gather. Each year we are invited to come together to read “What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July,” by Frederick Douglass, first presented on July 5, 1852. At a time when our country is struggling to define and redefine ourselves as a people of compassion and inclusion, we are invited to pause and attend to his words.

Sarah-Willie LeBreton, president of Smith College, greeted us with an introduction to draw our attention to the sweep of history, of patience, determination, pride and anger that Douglass invested in his majestic words. As we read passages together, we were all aware that Historic Northampton holds all of our history with equanimity: our Indigenous past and present, the presence of slave holders among our abolitionist neighbors; and our current political differences.

This year, my 10-year-old granddaughter, Bhramari, shared my passage. I am proud of her, and proud to live in a town that supports our complex history. I hope that other families will use these rich resources to educate our children. Perhaps next year, as we gather, middle and high school children will share this moving experience. Thank you to Elizabeth Sharpe and Laurie Sanders, co-directors extraordinaire.

Janet Q. Nelson


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