Frederick Douglass comes alive in Lynn

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North Shore Juneteenth Association founder Nicole McClain, left, and Vice President Adriana Paz stand with a cardboard cutout of Frederick Douglass at Frederick Douglass Park in Lynn. (Spenser Hasak)

LYNN — Around 30 listeners gathered in Frederick Douglass Park Sunday night for the North Shore Juneteenth Association’s first ever annual July Fourth Frederick Douglass reading.

North Shore Juneteenth Association Secretary Wendy Joseph has hosted the annual reading Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for The Negro” for 12 years at High Rock Tower, but Sunday night’s reading was the first to take place in Frederick Douglass Park with the North Shore Juneteenth Associtation hosting it.

Before volunteers lined up at the stage to take turns reading Douglass’ speech, North Shore Juneteenth Association founder and Executive Director Nicole McClain said that she was proud to help host the event and educate the public on what Frederick Douglass stood for.

“We are very proud that we are helping to organize an event that speaks to the ending of slavery and also to the legacy of Frederick Douglass and what he stood for as far as what is the fourth of July to the Negro, which wasn’t much because we weren’t free yet,” McClain said. “What we want from this event is for the community to come together and to learn more about Frederick Douglass, to hear his speech, and to understand what he was coming from at that time. It’s an educational event. The community comes together to be educated.”

Joseph said that Douglass’ words still ring true today, even though they were written more than 150 years ago.

“What we found here year after year is that these words from 1852 still continue to resound with us today. The issues of disparity he was talking about, he was here until 1905, so he saw the end of the Civil War, the end of slavery, and then he saw reconstruction crash and burn,” Joseph said. “He was working with the same problems that we’re having with the erosion of civil rights directed at African Americans and all people of color.”

Before the reading, African Drummer Greg Coles, of Salem, explained the history and significance of various West African drum breaks.

“This [drum] break is bringing into an African mind, during slavery, away from home: how can we sing our song in our captive land? How do you do that? Remember these songs that were born in your native land to help you celebrate the major milestones of life, when now, you’re being chained. How do you do that?” Coles said.

Coles explained the significance of rhythm in African culture, and pieced apart various drum breaks, explaining each one.

“’Foli’ means ‘rhythm.’ Africans believe that all of life has rhythm. You know this by your calendar, you know this by your schedules, you know this by the sun and the moon, everything we understand is put together nicely by this concept of rhythm,” Coles said.

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