The words of Frederick Douglass rang out from the Federated Church in Edgartown Tuesday, as readers recited the abolitionist orator’s famous speech: The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro.

The congregation then dedicated a plaque that commemorates the church as the 29th site on the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail.

Mr. Douglass himself once addressed a substantial crowd in this same church, then known as the Congregational Church. The Vineyard Gazette duly noted the two Edgartown appearances of Mr. Douglas in November of 1857, one at town hall, and the other at the Congregational Church.

Co-founders of the Vineyard's African American Heritage Trail, Carrie Tankard (middle) and Elaine Cawley Weintraub (far right) help celebrate newest site. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“His arguments in favor of a common origin of mankind were very logical, and doubtless deemed conclusive by the great majority of his hearers,” the Gazette reporter wrote. “He is a fluent and powerful speaker, and commands uninterrupted attention.”

On Tuesday, sometimes in quiet tones, sometimes in boisterous voice, a series of readers repeated the 1 1/2 hour speech in the sweltering Federated Church, before pews and balconies filled with people. The speech was a blunt repudiation of the hypocrisy of a nation celebrating independence, while condoning slavery.

“I am not included within the favor of this glorious anniversary,” said author and editor Tom Dunlop, reciting the words of Mr. Douglass. “Your high independence only reveals immeasurable distance between us. The blessing in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in kind. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, but not by me. This Fourth of July is yours, it is not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Former Oak Bluffs police chief Joe Carter, a member of the Federated Church, also read the words of Mr. Douglass, in which the orator spoke of remembering those who suffered in chains while the nation celebrated.

Plaque commemorates Frederick Douglass's visit to the Vineyard in 1857. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason, most scandalous and shocking.”

West Tisbury Congregational Church minister Cathlin Baker read a part of the speech where Mr. Douglass criticized churches of the day. “The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection to what it is doing to uphold slavery. But it is superlatively guilty when viewed in its connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission.”

Following the oratory, many in the crowd gathered outside the church for the unveiling of a plaque honoring the appearance of Mr. Douglass at the church in 1857, and marking the building as the 29th site on the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail.

Federated Church pastor the Rev. David Berube opened the ceremony with a prayer.

“We dedicate this plaque and this place to the memory of Frederick Douglass, and the education of all who see it,” Reverend Berube said. “May it be a historical reminder, and a present and future inspiration, to keep on in the cause of seeking justice.”

What does the Fourth of July mean to you? — Mark Alan Lovewell

The co-founders of the heritage trail are Island residents Elaine Cawley Weintraub and Carrie Tankard.

“When we started this venture, we thought we’d get three, maybe four sites, so it’s delightful to see we’re at 29 and counting,” Ms. Tankard said.

Ms. Weintraub said the plaque is also a reminder of the Vineyarders who invited Mr. Douglass to speak on the Island.

“We’re really delighted, to unveil this plaque today,” Ms. Weintraub said. “People are going to walk past this plaque every day and they’re going to learn something. They’re going to learn that Frederick Douglass preached here. People cared enough about the crime of slavery, to invite Frederick Douglass here.”