Anti-slavery hero’s 1845 trip to Ireland to be feted in ‘Douglass Week’

Online events will focus on Frederick Douglass’s ‘transformative’ four-month visit

Frederick Douglass: escaped slavery and became a prominent abolitionist, orator and writer. Photograph: MPI/Getty Images

Frederick Douglass: escaped slavery and became a prominent abolitionist, orator and writer. Photograph: MPI/Getty Images

 

More than 175 years after Frederick Douglass embarked on a four-month visit to Ireland, the first all-island symposium to mark the occasion takes place this week.

“Douglass Week” is a seven-day series of events celebrating the trip he described as “transformative”.

Douglass was one of the most powerful voices in the anti-slavery movement in the United States in the 19th century, escaping slavery while a young man and becoming a prominent abolitionist, orator and writer.

In 1845 he travelled to Ireland – then in the early days of the Great Famine – visiting Belfast, Dublin and Cork, before leaving to tour Britain.

He spoke to packed audiences, many of them Quakers, about the movement to abolish slavery in the US, at one point sharing a stage with Daniel O’Connell. Douglass was hugely impressed by O’Connell, a vocal opponent of slavery even when some figures in Irish America advised against it.

Performance and discussion

This week’s initiative, which is being organised by University College Cork with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and others, includes performances, conversations and critical discussions. All events are online and free to the public. Among the events is the Frederick Douglass/Daniel O’Connell address on Monday night which will be delivered by American human rights activist and lawyer Bryan Stevenson. The late John Lewis gave the inaugural address in 2014.

Other panels include Tuesday’s session on abolitionism in Cork, creative writing workshops and a discussion with actor Paul Oakley Stovall, best-known for his role as George Washington in the hit musical Hamilton. Writer Colum McCann, whose 2013 novel Transatlantic includes an account of Douglass’s visit to Ireland, will also speak on Saturday.

Race identity

A focus on contemporary black Irish voices and race identity in Ireland also forms part of Douglass Week. Former president Mary Robinson, Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu and writer Emma Dabiri will participate in the final session next Sunday, along with academic Ebun Joseph and Nettie Washington Douglass, the great great grand-daughter of Frederick. The final event of the week-long celebration takes place on February 14th, widely believed to be Douglass’s birthday though, like many born into slavery, his precise birth date is unknown.