This Independence Day, history will come to life in North Andover.

Words from past struggles over racial injustice will echo from generations ago, reflecting challenges faced by today's society.

Two local historical groups will offer a July 4 presentation of some of nation's most revered documents and cherished speeches.

The town's Historical Society and the Friends of the 1836 Meeting House will present the event Independence Day at 9 a.m. and noon on local cable TV — North Andover CAM's Comcast Channel 22 and Verizon Channel 24, and Andover TV's Comcast Channel 8 and Verizon Channel 47.

The event, called the Fourth of July Reading of the Declaration of Independence, was recently recorded on the Town Common to be shown on the holiday. It features readings of the Declaration of Independence, an abbreviated version of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, a shortened version of "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" speech by Frederick Douglass, and President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

"We are hopeful that our program's inclusion of historical speeches from two of the greatest orators of color will encourage our viewers to reflect upon today's social unrest with a new lens that U.S. history provides," said John Lennhoff, a member of the 1836 Meeting House Board of Directors.

Organizers said they hope to make the reading an annual event.

Lennhoff said the idea for the event originated with North Andover Historical Society board member James Worden.

"James had witnessed a reading of the Declaration of Independence in the town of Templeton (Massachusetts) and thought we should bring it to North Andover," Lennhoff said. 

In a typical year, this event could have be held at the North Parish Church or on the Town Common as part of a Fourth of July celebration with the public invited. But because of the COVID-19 crisis, the best format was to record and broadcast a video reading, Lennhoff said.

"This is not a typical year in more ways than just the COVID virus," he said. "There is broad global unrest and protesting because of long-simmering racial injustice and economic inequality. In reflecting upon a reading of the Declaration of Independence and freedom from a long list of grievances, we thought it would be appropriate to include other historical readings related to people of color in America."

This idea was reinforced by the Rev. Lee Bluemel, minister of the North Parish Church, who has seen Andover High School physics teacher Ralph Bledsoe perform Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. In Bledsoe's presentation, he connected the Declaration of Independence to racial inequality through a series of historic documents and speeches, Lennhoff said.

"The selection of the Emancipation Proclamation was an obvious choice to complement the Declaration of Independence," Lennhoff said. "In discussing our program with the Racial Justice Team at North Parish Church, we added 'The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro' by Frederick Douglass."

Douglass, who escaped from slavery, became an American social reformer, abolitionist, public speaker and statesman who gained notoriety for his antislavery writings.

Lennhoff said Bledsoe was asked to add a modern speech to the July 4 program, so he is performing the "I Have a Dream" speech, which King presented at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Reading the Declaration of Independence are: Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo; state Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover; Mayara Reis, co-founder of the Merrimack Valley Black and Brown Voices and Allies; and young North Andover residents Henry Choi-Wright, Ellise Nealey and Amar Worden and his sister Priya Worden.

Excerpts from Douglass' 1852 speech are read by Reis and fellow Merrimack Valley Black and Brown Voices and Allies co-founder Elizabeth Walther-Grant of Andover. This speech, which originally lasted about 70 minutes, has been edited down to seven minutes, while retaining the primary message, Lennhoff said.

DiSalvo and Nguyen read Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation from 1863, and Bledsoe reads an abbreviated version of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

To learn more about the historical society and the friends of the meeting house, visit online at northandoverhistoricalsociety.org and 1836meetinghouse.org.

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