Liveblogging the Frederick Douglass Readathon

2: 57 p.m. I’m sitting here in the tenth annual Frederick Douglass Readathon, the annual event sponsored by the New Bedford Historical Society during which the entire text of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is read aloud by people from the community. We just heard Barney Frank, our congressman, read; and Scott Lang, the mayor of New Bedford; and right now Carl Cruz is reading — Carl is a local historian who knows more about the history of people of color in New Bedford than anyone else that I’m aware of. Now Carl has finished, and a boy, about nine years old and wearing a pink shirt and a red tie, is reading a passage from Frederick Douglass’s childhood memories.

Right now there are about sixty or seventy people here. As you’d expect, the people who come to this are of a variety of skin colors — black and white and brown. This is a distinct contrast to the Moby-Dick readathon which takes place in New Bedford in January, and which draws a predominantly white audience. I like the fact that there are quite a few young people here — mostly children and pre-teens, but a few teenagers as well.

But the best part of this year’s Frederick Douglass Readathon for me is that it is being held here in First Unitarian. I got to welcome people here on behalf of the congregation, which was fun. And it’s great fun to have one of my favorite pieces of American non-fiction read aloud here.

4:40 p.m. The Readathon has gotten almost to the end of Chapter IX. I’ve read my section of the Narrative, the first third of Chapter VIII. The afternoon is darkening into evening, and we’re down to about thirty people now; which is too bad, because this is where the book gets most interesting; and we’ve had a good run of very good readers.

5:46 p.m. Frederick Douglass has just failed in his first escape attempt; and now has been discovered. It is a dramatic moment, and the person reading this passage is doing it just right: not reading dramatically, but in a deliberate and straightforward manner.

6:13 p.m. “…on the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind….”

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