What New Bedford Meant to Frederick Douglass
Not that far off, 2026 marks the 250th anniversary of our nation's founding. It's overwhelming trying to note all that went in to the evolving recipe of the making of America. We can disagree on a lot of things, but the one fact that brings everyone together is that success can happen to anyone who understands the hard work it takes to become bountiful.
Famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass was an example of this. He inspired the world with things he saw for the first time in New Bedford. Living here, working here, seeing for the first time in his life that people who look like him had become respected and wealthy merchants of the community – and also seeing that the bedrock of all of this is freedom.
It caught my attention that the Marion Art Center will be presenting a public reading of Douglass's 1852 speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July." To this day, that question still resonates.
"(We decided to) put on this program as part of our goal to expand our offerings and outreach to other community members whom we don't usually reach," said Jodi Stevens, Executive Director of the Marion Art Center.
That's an important demographic that's overlooked all the time.
"One recommendation from Mass Humanities, which was important to our event, was to bring in a scholar who can help us begin a dialogue," she said.
That's how Douglass did it. Wherever he went, he had public discourse, where he planted the seeds of change and the belief in freedom.
Back in March, Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society was on Townsquare Sunday with Jim Philips and on their webpage, you'll read that Douglass "could proudly claim to have served as advisor, political ally, and friend to six presidents, abolitionists Gerrit Smith and William Lloyd Garrison; women's rights Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott; and authors Samuel Clements (a.k.a. Mark Twain) and Ralph Waldo Emerson."
"Frederick Douglass will long be remembered as a noted orator, writer, publish, politician, entrepreneur, political activist, national celebrity and historical figure. He left an indelible mark on the social, economic and political landscape of the nineteenth century," according to the Historical Society website.
To think that Frederick Douglass began his mission and new life after slavery here in New Bedford is uplifting.