NEW BEDFORD — A photo of Frederick Douglass sits at the pulpit of the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford where the abolitionist worked.

Douglass faced around 70 attendees Sunday as many held copies of his book, “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” following along as community members read aloud at the pulpit.

It was the 18th annual Frederick Douglass Community Read-a-thon presented by the New Bedford Historical Society prior to his 200th birthday on Wednesday.

“I think it’s very important for the kids to be involved,” said Shannon Medeiros, 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Normandin Middle School. “It’s their backyard history. You want that to resonate with them.”

Sarah Barboza, a Normandin eighth grader, was the second student to read, covering part of the first chapter.

Asked by her teacher to read, she joyfully said yes. “I just thought it would be an opportunity for me to understand Douglass’ life and the narrative,” she said, although Sunday marked her third time reading. Asked if she feels she gains a better understanding of the narrative each year, she said yes. 

Rev. David Lima was the third person to read the preface by William Lloyd Garrison after City Council President Linda Morad and Mayor Jon Mitchell.

“Until we recognize the value and worth of every person regardless of age, race, ethnicity and position in life, we will continue to harm ourselves and society,” Lima told the Standard-Times after he finished reading.

Carl J. Cruz, chairman of the read-a-thon, reminded the audience that “It was here in New Bedford where Douglass found his first job as a free man.”

Douglass earned his first paid wages as a free man working for the First Unitarian Church’s minister, Ephraim Peabody. Douglass and his wife Anna Murray were residents of New Bedford for five years and started a family here.

Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society, donning a Douglass pin said the narrative, Douglass’ first autobiography, “was and is a revolutionary book.”

Before the reading began, Mitchell said he agrees the city has to do more to tell the history of Douglass in New Bedford. “New Bedford was unusual,” he said, serving as a promise land and the place where Douglass got his name.

Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral also gave remarks. “Frederick Douglass has left a lasting mark on New Bedford,” he said.

He encouraged the audience to “Stand for what’s right; defend the rights of those being attacked.”

 

Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT