The annual Chautauqua performances occur in Garrett County, Maryland, right after July 4th, providing attendees with three evenings of living history interpreters. They present thought-provoking ideas and knowledgeable re-enactments. This year’s theme opened my thoughts to another aspect of suffering: injustice.The actor portraying Frederick Douglass, Bill Grimmette, had extensive primary source knowledge and the passion of the slave turned vocal orator and then statesman. Douglass fled the slavery of Maryland’s Eastern Shore once, but was found. However, he had taught himself to read and write, and his second attempt (1838) took him to Baltimore and finally to New York City where he was free. Still, whenever Douglass returned from European speaking engagements, he had no assurance that his freedom would be honored. Though he rose to U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, he sought justice for all his life. He overcame his suffering, both physical and psychological, and pressed the cause of justice for others, including equal pay for black soldiers. The second night, Eleanor Roosevelt, portrayed above by Susan Marie Frontczak, presented a segment of Roosevelt’s very busy life. Frontczak’s extensive research has led her to create four different presentations of this First Lady. As a child, shy Eleanor lost both her parents before her tenth birthday. Yet, she became a debutante, raised five children and dealt with FDR’s polio limitations before she started speaking out for several causes, including child labor, minimum wage, women’s rights, civil rights and world peace. The Doctrine of Human Rights that she helped hammer out in the early years of NATO, framed the presentation we attended. Like Douglass, she sought justice for those with a lesser voice. The final night’s performance brought Thurgood Marshall to life through actor Brian Wilson. While the first two presenters had prepared their information from many primary sources, Wilson had Lenneal Henderson, adjunct professor of government at William and Mary, to give more historical information in the question and answer session that follows each Chautauqua presentation. The first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, Marshall’s earlier fame rose from his success in Brown vs the Board of Education. State-sanctioned segregation of public schools ended.
As I considered the freedoms I often take for granted, this year’s seeking justice theme led me to a deeper understanding of those who suffered injustices, and three individuals who devoted themselves to fighting for people who suffered injustice.