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Episode Info:

Hooker Day was a one-time holiday celebrated in Boston in 1903. While it might sound like this is going to be an X-rated podcast, we’re not talking about that kind of hooker. Civil War General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker was briefly the commander of the main Union force called the Army of the Potomac. Forty years after his command, he was immortalized with a massive statue in front of our State House. When the statue was dedicated, the entire city celebrated a holiday that was called Hooker Day in his honor.

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Hooker Day Hooker mounted in 1903 Master Joseph Hooker Wood and the sculptors Route of the parade Recalling Hooker’s glory days The State House decked out in bunting with a shrouded statue Ready for the unveiling Boston Book Club

At the end of May, The Smithsonian announced an outstanding acquisition made by the Boston Athenaeum. In a private sale from an antiques dealer, they purchased two leather bound photo albums which contained a total of 87 portraits.

The article describes them as “a veritable “Who’s Who” of 19th-century Black Boston dressed to the nines in Victorian finery. The images bring to life politicians, military officers, literary figures, financiers, abolitionists and children, formally posed in opulent studio settings and gazing with great dignity directly at the camera.” They belonged to Harriet Hayden, an African American woman who, along with her husband Lewis, escaped slavery to become a major figure on Boston’s underground railroad.

The opening of the article describes one of the portraits:

With a quiet, unflinching confidence, Virginia L. Molyneaux Hewlett Douglass posed for the photographer, one slender hand rustling the pleats of her fine silk dress. Although portraits were trendy and accessible in the 1860s when hers was shot, hand-colored photographs were a luxury, and this one is saturated with shades of emerald and lilac, underlining Virginia’s wealth and high social standing as the wife of Frederick Douglass, Jr., son of the celebrated abolitionist. Her name is handwritten above the portrait in flowery cursive as Mrs. Frederick Douglas, pasted into one of two recently discovered albums that have the potential to change much of what we know of the network of African-Americans centered around the steep north slope of Boston’s Beacon Hill in the 1860s and beyond.

Upcoming Historical Event

Mass Humanities is sponsoring a series called Reading Frederick Douglass Together that’s being held across the Commonwealth this summer. On July 2, people will gather on Boston Common to take part in reading from Douglass’s 1852 speech, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”

Though Frederick Douglass had strong ties to Boston and gave many speeches here, this (his most famous address) was given in Rochester, New York. It was delivered on July 5th as a response to the city’s Independence Day celebrations, and it takes aim squarely on the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal,” and contrasts the beautiful sentiment of that phrase with the reality of enslavement that he had grown up in and that still continued to that day. He said, in part:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

It’s uncomfortable to read, even today, because it forces you to examine uncomfortable truths about our nation’s founding and founders. If you have to confront an uncomfortable truth, why not do it with friends? Here in Boston, the reading will be held at noon on Tuesday, July 2 in front of the memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers. However, if you won’t be in Boston, we’ll be sure to link to the entire event schedule from Mass Humanities. Readings will be held in different towns from June 27 to September 28. At each one, members of the public can volunteer to read a passage from the speech, and everyone takes turns until the whole thing is complete.

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