RIO RANCHO, New Mexico — About 150 preachers, rabbis and imams are promising to invoke Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass on July 4th as they call for the U.S. to tackle racism and poverty.
The religious leaders are scheduled this weekend to frame their sermons around “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” on the 168th anniversary of that speech by Douglass. The former slave gave his speech at an Independence Day celebration on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York. The address challenged the Founding Fathers and the hypocrisy of their ideals with the existence of slavery on American soil.
The initiative to remember Douglass is led by the Poor People’s Campaign, a coalition of religious leaders seeking to push the U.S. to address issues of poverty modeled after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last crusade.
“(The Declaration of Independence) was written mostly by Thomas Jefferson. Yet he owned hundreds of human beings, and enslaved them,” Rabbi Arthur Waskow plans to tell The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, according to prepared remarks. “The contradiction between his words and his actions has been repeated through all American history.”
Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, said he’s joining the effort because the nation needs a “moral vaccine” against racism and the pandemic. “I am participating this weekend in the tradition of Frederick Douglass who eloquently put a moral mirror to America offering her a chance to change by facing what she needs to fix,” he said.
Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, said their group also will take part in solidarity.
“Both Pandita Pratima Doobay, Sadhana’s resident priestess, and Pandit Sanjai Doobay, a member of our spiritual counsel, will be sharing video messages and prayers (July 4th) morning, reflecting from a Hindu perspective on the speech delivered by Frederick Douglass.”
The clergy also will urge their congressional representatives and senators to listen to their sermons and address systemic racism and issue a call to support the Poor People’s Moral Justice Jubilee Policy Platform. That platform seeks more attention to poverty and police reforms.
Last month, the Poor People’s Campaign held a virtual march that attracted more than 2.5 million viewers on Facebook.
The gathering came two years after Rev. William Barber, of Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Rev. Liz Theoharis of New York City encouraged activists in 40 states to take part in acts of civil disobedience, teach-ins, and demonstrations to force communities to address poverty on the anniversary of King’s 1968 planned event, which was held after he was killed in Memphis, Tennessee.
The coalition is operating in 45 states, Barber said. Organizers have visited impoverished colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border and met with poor white farmers in Kansas.