Using a smartphone or computer camera, dozens of people nationwide – including a few Johnstown high school students – collaborated for a public project Saturday by the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
Johnstown residents Yvette Madison, Pastor Ken Arnett and three Greater Johnstown High School students – Sierra Hill, Icis Donald and Alana Donald – recorded themselves reading a portion of the speech at First Cambria A.M.E. Zion Church in Johnstown.
They were among readers of various ages, races and backgrounds who contributed to the project.
Douglass became a renowned writer and public speaker after escaping from slavery in 1838.
In 1852, The Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society asked Douglass to deliver a Fourth of July address. Although he accepted the invitation to speak, he insisted that he deliver his address on July 5 – "perhaps in part because slave auctions had often been held on July 4," the National Park Service's website states.
The Johnstown participants read the 23rd paragraph of Douglass’ speech:
"They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was 'settled' that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were 'final;' not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times."
Douglass was both an abolitionist and advocate for universal voting rights.
The year 2020 is significant in voting rights history, according to the National Park Service.
"This year, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 15th Amendment," reads a statement on the National Park Service's website. "Both anniversaries remind us that the fight for independence and equality did not end in the 18th century – a theme highlighted in Douglass’ speech."