AAA Southern New England
February 2014 / In Your Backyard
By Poornima Apte
Visitors to New Bedford, Mass., might give the Frederick Douglass monument a passing glance, but the city’s vibrant history actually includes its role as a major hub on the Underground Railroad.
Frederick and Anna Douglass, a newly married couple at the time, came to New Beadford in September 1838. “The Nathan and Polly Johnson House was Douglass’ first home in freedom after his escape from the Wye Plantation in Maryland,” said Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society.
The home is part of the city’s Black History Trail; other highlights include the Lewis Temple Statue, Sgt. William Carney Memorial Homestead and Paul Cuffe Park. “The Black History Trail includes about 24 stops of importance to the history of African-Americans and Cape Verdeans in New Bedford,” Blake said.
Underground Railroad tours are held on a regular basis. Every February, the society hosts a Frederick Douglass Community Read-a-Thon, which is a continuous reading of “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself.” Selections of the book are given out to readers, and anyone can participate; this year’s reading is scheduled for Feb. 9.
Blake encourages the public to learn more about the rich history of the city. “New Bedford was well-known for creating a welcoming environment and protecting freedom seekers. The city had a large free African-American population that was actively involved in the abolition movement and the activities around the country to end enslavement,” Blake said. “Additionally, the city had a number of Quaker merchants who believed that enslavement was a sin and organized antislavery organizations.” New Bedford Historical Society, 21 Seventh St., New Bedford: www.nbhistoricalsociety.org, 508-979-8828. To read more about other educational attractions, click here.
Frederick Douglass will soon be getting his due in the city’s public school curriculum.
Beginning next year, students in Grades 8-10 will study the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” the autobiography written by the then-young future abolitionist who arrived in New Bedford in 1838.
Students in the middle and high school grades will also read Douglass’ “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” — one of the renowned former-slave-turned-abolitionist’s most admired speeches. read full story
Some 6,000 American slave narratives exist, and one of the best of the genre is the 1845 “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself.”
It is a short, powerful, accessible and inspiring book written by the greatest, most eloquent and best-known self-educated individual ever to have lived in New Bedford. Learning how an enslaved and viciously beaten youngster became a free man by learning to read and write (largely on his own and despite serious obstacles), and having the opportunity to discuss the first and shortest of his three first autobiographies with their classmates and with informed and insightful teachers might actually give disaffected, struggling students the courage to stay in school. read full story
By James Sullivan
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2011
NEW BEDFORD — Jim Lopes’s great-grandfather was a New Bedford whaler who emigrated from Cape Verde in 1873. Lopes’s grandfather also worked on the ships in the waning days of whaling prominence in this coastal city.
For him and others with similar backgrounds, he recalled, “It was not a welcoming place.’’Yet Lopes, who grew up four blocks from the New Bedford Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill, remembers feeling little connection to the city’s chief cultural institution, chronicler of his ancestors’ livelihood. In those days, the museum emphasized the industry’s Yankee captains and financiers, not its diverse crews.
That impression has changed dramatically in recent years, with the staff of the 107-year-old museum working diligently to honor those from other cultures — the backbone of an industry that made New Bedford the wealthiest city on earth, per capita, in the mid-19th century.
A new exhibit opening July 5 will focus on Cape Verdean heritage and the island nation’s contributions to New Bedford whaling. To kick off the exhibit, the museum will host several cultural events next week.
Lopes, an entertainment lawyer and professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, now serves as the museum’s vice president of education and programming. He was instrumental in soliciting the Cape Verdean community for donations of family keepsakes — photos, uniforms, logbooks — for the new exhibit, which opens on Cape Verde’s Independence Day. For more than a decade, he has been filming interviews about Cape Verdean whaling in America.
NEW BEDFORD — In an upstairs room at the Main Library, in the midst of July’s swelter, 80 students searched for new friends after they were instructed by their teacher to form groups for a reading activity. read full story
Teachers across the United States are already circling the month of July 2011 on their calendars.
That’s when they’ll have a chance to come to New Bedford to learn about the city’s important historical role in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.
The opportunity is being made possible through an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture program. “Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad” is a collaborative project between the University of Mass. Dartmouth, the New Bedford Historical Society, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Rotch Jones Duff Museum and the National Whaling Historical Park. read full story