“In safety under his own vine:” Widmer on religious tolerance

Connoisseurs of the AC/DC sound surely know that Ted Widmer clocked one of the more curious post-performance career changes in Boston rock history.

Widmer, a Harvard PhD in the History of American Civilization, in the mid 1990s was best known in the smarter precincts of Central Square as Lord Rockingham, a member of the faux-fop metal band "The Upper Crust".

After laying down his guitar, Widmer went on to write speeches for President Bill Clinton.

Now an historian with several books to his credit, Widmer is the Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

On Wednesday, June 13 at 7 PM, Widmer will speak before the Cambridge Forum on the subject of religious tolerance in America.

Widmer will use two classic American texts as springboards: George Washington's 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island ("To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance") and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1858 poem, "The Jewish Cemetery at Newport".

"Washington and Longfellow", said Widmer in a telephone interview, "were each outlining their respective visions of what a diverse and tolerant United States should look like. Washington's was a very smart view; Longfellow's was a bit spacey but heartfelt. Each was able to imagine how Newport's tiny 18th century Jewish Community was, in its own way, both emblematic of and vital to American historic precedent."

"A Test Case for America: Washington, Longfellow, and the Jewish Community at Newport." Parish House, The First Parish Church, 3 Church St., Cambridge. Free.

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