Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Correction

In an earlier post, I used an unfortunate term to describe the people I thought I would encounter there.
The event I referred to, The Ninth Annual Frederick Douglass Read-A-Thon, did not employ the usual cast of "self-important attention hounds." New Bedford has its share of people who show up at events in order to be seen, make incongruous remarks, and vanish when the cameras get put away. They know who they are, and I dreaded their usual crass opportunism..
However, I ended up enjoying an afternoon with a bunch of people who care about the history of my city. And by "history," I mean past, present, and future.
Maybe it was the Quaker Meetinghouse atmosphere, or the singleness of purpose and intent among those gathered there, I saw only people inspired by the words of Frederick Douglass.
It is hard to stand before a congregation and not feel a need to emote a little when you read a line (written in 1870) like

War, slavery, injustice, and oppression, and the idea that might makes right, have been uppermost in all such governments; and the weak, for whose protection governments are ostensibly created, have had practically no rights which the strong have felt bound to respect. The slayers of thousands have been exalted into heroes, and the worship of mere physical force has been considered glorious. Nations have been and still are but armed camps, expending their wealth and strength and ingenuity in forging weapons of destruction against each other...
More inspiring when you hear school kids reading them. (It was fun to be reminded that Douglass learned how to write by copying the writing that the ships' carpenters at Durgin and Bailey's shipyard scrawled to mark "that part of the ship for which it was intended.") About the only negative comment all afternoon was heard in the room set up for refreshments. A man I do not know turned to a woman, whom I assume was his wife, and said: "I'm hearing some of this for the first time. I wonder how Don Imus or the rest o'them can even talk into a microphone."
New Bedford continues to surprise.

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