Communities Set To Read and Discuss “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

Each year, Mass Humanities organizes and funds free public events where communities gather together to read and talk about Frederick Douglass’ influential address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

This year, more than 40 cities and towns across the Commonwealth will take part in the Reading Frederick Douglass Together Program. The number of events continues to grow, surpassing the 24 held in 2022. A full list of dates and locations is available at

“We need the words of Frederick Douglass now more than ever,” said Brian Boyles, Mass Humanities Executive Director. “As the nation confronts rising intolerance and threats to our democracy, we are honored to partner with these communities. These neighbors and organizations choose to take responsibility for the past and to imagine a shared path forward. It is, as Douglass said, time to do our work.”

After escaping slavery in 1838, the famous abolitionist lived for many years in Massachusetts. The most celebrated orator of his day, Douglass’ denunciations of slavery and forceful examination of the Constitution challenge us to think about the stories we tell and don’t tell, the ideas that they teach or don’t teach and the gaps between our actions and aspirations. Douglass delivered the Fourth of July speech on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society.

Mass Humanities began supporting public readings of the speech in 2009. New to the Douglass program this year is a “trauma-informed” discussion guide for grantees.

Racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress, is the cumulative effect of racism on an individual’s mental and physical health. It has been observed in numerous BIPOC communities and among people of all ages, including young children. Racial trauma can be experienced vicariously or directly. It has been linked to feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, as well as other physical health issues.

Published by Mass Humanities in May, the guide acknowledges that the context of Douglass’ powerful speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” can result in racial traumatization or re-traumatization for participants and audience members as they read and discuss his words.

“The Trauma-Informed Discussion Guide provides a proactive, inclusive, and responsive framework for facilitating potentially difficult, uncomfortable conversations. It outlines a variety of step-by-step practices facilitators can choose from based on their experience and comfort levels to create supportive spaces for transformative dialogue on race and equity,” said the guide’s author, Dr. Latoya Bosworth, Mass Humanities Program Officer and coordinator of the Douglass initiative.

Along with providing funding support to organizations throughout the state, Mass Humanities hosts a reading each year on the Boston Common, near the monument to the 54th Regiment, that attracts state legislators, students and members of the public who take turns reading Douglass’ speech.

On Monday, July 3, Mass Humanities will once again partner with the Community Change, Inc. of Boston, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School and the Museum of African American History to host the annual Boston Common reading.

For further information, contact John Lynds, Director of Communications, at [email protected].

To learn more about Reading Frederick Douglass Together contact Latoya Bosworth, Program Officer, at [email protected]

Mass Humanities, a non-profit foundation based in Northampton, creates opportunities for the people of Massachusetts to transform their lives and build a more equitable Commonwealth through the humanities. Since its founding in 1974, the organization has provided millions of dollars to support thousands of humanities projects across Massachusetts. Established as the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Mass Humanities is an independent programming and grant-making organization that receives support from the NEH and the Massachusetts Cultural Council and private sources. For more information, visit or connect on social media at:

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