Published 8:05 pm, Saturday, September 16, 2017
Photo: Clare Dignan / Hearst Connecticut Media
NEW HAVEN >> The life and work of Frederick Douglass, the famous African-American abolitionist who helped rally black soldiers to fight for the Union during the Civil War, was honored Saturday in recognition of how his work still resonates.
The event, ‘New Haven’s Response to Charlottesville,’ was held in Criscuolo Park, where Douglass once spoke to the 29th Colored Regiment, an all-black volunteer regiment mustered in 1864 out of Fair Haven, according to connecticuthistory.org.
Kelly Mero, president of The Descendants of the Connecticut 29th Colored Voluntary Infantry, can trace her heritage back to a soldier from the 29th regiment through her father, Harrison Mero. She said that making a connection between Douglass’s work and the nation’s racial climate is important because his work is still as relevant today as it was 200 years ago.
“What makes it different is when Douglass was alive, few people not of color were among his crowds,” she said. “Today, so many people are coming together to agitate and speak out in favor of diversity.”
The celebration was organized by the Amistad Committee to commemorate the upcoming 200th anniversary of Douglass’s birth. The committee was formed in 1988 to educate about and honor the African captives aboard the schooner Amistad who attempted to revolt in 1839 and were brought to New Haven. After a trial held there, the Africans were freed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Nathan Richardson, who portrayed Douglass at the event, said he feels humbled by the opportunity to represent the historical figure. He is a poet, author and spoken word performer on “The Frederick Douglass Speaking Tour.” His performance was a creative portrayal taken from speeches and biographical material of Douglass’s life.
“I’m fortunate for not only what I’m representing but that I’m doing it at a time where I’m part of such a monumental shift,” Richardson said. Speaking about the protests and counter protests of white supremacists in Charlottesville in August he added, “I’m hopeful that what we see is not a resurgence, but the beginning of the end, the last breath.”
New Haven resident Don Richardson said he knows every word of Douglass’s famed speech “What to a slave is the Fourth of July?” which was recited at the event. He said one of his favorite quotes by Douglass is “men are whipped oftenest who are whipped easiest.”
“There are so many life lessons I’ve learned from Douglass that I share with people,” he said. “The importance of Douglass is that he stood against it (racism) when it was more dangerous to the life of him and his family and friends.”
The morning featured music by the Heritage Chorale and a keynote address by the Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Streets of Dixwell Congressional Church.
All the speakers talked about unity, equality, diversity and standing up for those values.
“Being accepting, those were Douglass’s words and that’s what our words were today, recognizing our oneness,” Mero said. “And New Haven is rich in that.”