The Frederick Douglass Papers has always desired to find ways to forge closer connections with audiences outside the academy. The programs of the second day of its biannual symposiums always were framed to attract members of the general public, curious to learn more about this famous African American.
In planning for the 2018 symposium to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Douglass’s birth, the project became aware of the Reading Frederick Douglass Together programs already under way in Massachusetts, Vermont, and elsewhere. Intrigued by these programs, we invited Dr. Rose M. Sackey-Milligan, a program officer at the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities (Mass Humanities). At that time, Dr. Sackey-Milligan was directing that state’s program of public readings of Frederick Douglass’s influential “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” address at various sites around Massachusetts. That program had begun in 2009 through a collaboration of Mass Humanities with the Boston-based Community Change, Inc. and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. The Massachusetts program began with a single reading on the Boston Common but over time the reading event spread to many additional communities. Sackey-Milligan eagerly shared literature and guided us to the program’s website that gave the following succinct rationale for the program:
“The life and works of Frederick Douglass continue to shape our understanding of America. A gifted orator and prescient writer, Douglass forces us to reckon with the legacy of slavery and the promises of democracy.”
Sackey-Milligan also praised the success of a similar program on-going at that time holding readings in Vermont, sponsored by that state’s Humanities Council.
With Sackey-Milligan’s warm encouragement, a group of attendees at the 2018 Douglass Papers’ symposium along with the project staff began the work of creating our own “Hoosiers Reading Frederick Douglass Together” program.