NEW BEDFORD — On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass spoke before a crowd in Rochester, New York, giving a talk that became known as "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro." On Thursday evening at Seamen's Bethel, poet Everett Hoagland and SouthCoast residents gave voice to Douglass's speech to a crowd of nearly 75 people.

His words were spoken by those whose voices filled the building. Some were soft-spoken, Douglass’s words echoing against the walls. Others spoke with a hair-raising ferocity.

One hundred and 65 years since his first address, Douglass' message raises issues that are still being dealt with today.  

"A lot of the issues he raised, like prison rates among blacks and immigration, carry a lot of relevance 165 years later. They're issues we're still struggling with today," said Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society, sponsors of the event.

Blake said across the state Douglass's speech is being interpreted in cities and towns this week. In New Bedford, the birthplace of Douglass as a free man, his speech has been read for the last five years.

"A lot of his abolitionist thinking was supported by the city in that time," she said.

Reading an abridged version of his speech, each reader took the time out to reflect on some of the issues he raised and discussed with the crowd how they ring true today.

"Substitute desperate refugee for slave, African American for slave or women for slaves in many of passages and it suggests much is still the same," Hoagland said.

"Oppression makes a wise man mad. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression."

“People resist oppression, that’s true today with Black Lives Matter,” Hoagland said.

He supported the ideals of the revolution against the British and used that to draw parallels for his argument for the freedom of slaves.

“Douglass had no problems with the Declaration of Independence,” Hoagland said. “He believed what it stood for. His problem was the preaching of the Declaration versus the practice. I believe we still have that problem today.”

"An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so."

A woman compared Douglass’s passage to for-profit prisons. And how those wardens make fortunes for filling their prisons with as many people as possible, regardless of proper living conditions or, in some cases, a person’s guilt or innocence.

"No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference."

A positive take on the country, and today, the world by Douglass. Accountability by global organizations such as NATO ensure atrocities like the Holocaust don’t reoccur in history.

"They love their country better than their own private interest; and all will concede that is a rare virtue, that ought to command respect." 

A man from the back right of the room said that today too many of the country's leaders do the exact opposite — leaving the country lesser at the expense of an inconvenience or profit loss. 

Follow Wesley Sykes on Twitter @WesleySykes_SCT.