Speak to Us, Frederick Douglass

It’s raining in #ConcordMassachusetts on the morning of the #FrederickDouglass community reading. Not a friendly little rain. Water coming down in sheets.

The Robbins House https://rb.gy/zse0d staff have set up a small event tent for participants, across from the tent they’ll be under to lead the event. The re-enactor playing Douglass – an imposing young woman — looks unfazed. Her muslin gown and cap must be miserable in this heat. Maybe she’s thinking that Douglass in his endless miles of travel saw much worse.

A sheaf of numbered slips is offered to participants, each with a few sentences of “What is the Fourth of July to the Negro.” As we share them around, the talk is of #standouts on #MonumentSquare. Didn’t I meet you at the Dobbs protest. Weren’t you tabling for #driverslicenseequity. Are you doing the climate change march on Independence Day.

Moments before the reading, two grey-haired women make their way to the row of seats behind me. One is using a cane.

“Douglass” begins her oration in a deep commanding tone. The pounding rain seeps through the tent ceiling, dripping on the paper slips we’re clutching. Readers shout to be heard.

The two older women stand up when their turn comes to read. The abolitionist’s fierce words booming from these aged bodies is momentarily startling. Then maybe encouraging. They’ve been in the deluge before. They’re #stillinthework.

I look at my neighbors and think, with the Court and country like this, what do we do now? (Dear colleagues: I hope you’ll share what you’re thinking.)

At the Robbins House, as the rain eases, these are Douglass’s words that lodge themselves in my brain.

“But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work . . . You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence.”

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