July 4, 2020
One of the oldest continuous traditions in the entire state of Vermont occurs in my little town of Thetford just before midnight on the evening of July 3rd. Since the early 1800’s, residents have gathered at the First Congregational Church on Thetford Hill and have taken turns reading the Declaration of Independence. This is then followed by the ringing of the church bell — one toll for every year that has elapsed since July 4, 1776.
Last night was a little different. Yes, the bell was still rung (but, with pandemic protections in place, by just one person rather than the couple of dozen who typically take turns). But no one was in the sanctuary; rather, the reading took place on the town green across the road from the church. And social distancing was enforced.
And what was read was not the Declaration of Independence but, rather, Frederick Douglass’s legendary speech “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” which he delivered on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York.
To watch a video of some of his modern-day descendants read excerpts from his speech, click here.