Belfast to build a statue of former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass

Belfast City Council has approved a proposal to erect a statue to U.S. abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass, a U.S. abolitionist and activist who was born into slavery, visited Belfast during his lecture tour in 1845.

One of the most prominent campaigners of his time, Douglass worked tirelessly to fight against slavery.

A statue of the former slave and abolitionist has been approved by Belfast City Council and is an early step in considering “how the city’s wider association with slavery during that period in history could be recognised.”

Belfast statue of Douglass – “an anti-racism trailblazer”

Belfast statue of Frederick Douglass approved by Belfast City Council.
Credit: Twitter / @NiallSF

A specially commissioned drawing of Douglass by local artist Aaron Hughes was hung in the Lord Mayor’s parlour in July 2019.

The proposal for a Belfast statue dedicated to the former slave was brought by Sinn Féin and passed unanimously on Monday.

The statue will stand at Rosemary Street, which is where Douglass made his address in 1845 on the suffering of slaves and the abolition of the slave trade.

Councillor Ciaran Beattie said he was “delighted”.

He said, “The project will now move to the stage of design, and how we can create a creative and innovative tribute to a magnificent man and anti-racism trailblazer.

“This statue will not only be a tribute to Douglass but also to the anti-racism movement in Belfast and across Ireland.

“From Belfast to the world, this is a clear and unambiguous message – Black Lives Matter,” he said.

Douglass and Belfast – inspired by Irish reformers

Douglass was inspired by Irish reformers.
Credit: Dublin Regional Tourism Authority

Inspired by Irish reformers, Douglass became one of the most prominent abolitionists of the 19th-century.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback Programme, Aidan McQuade, former director of Anti-Slavery International, stated:

“He wrote in his memoirs that Daniel O’Connell was one of his inspirations because of O’Connell’s outspoken anti-slavery sentiment at the time.

“Douglas coming to Ireland was tapping into that international movement.

“Commemorating his presence in Belfast reflects back onto that period in an important way, at a time when Catholic, Protestant, and dissenter were united in a common cause and a common outward-looking case – it’s something Belfast can be deeply proud of.”

Who was Frederick Douglass? – a prominent abolitionist and former slave

Belfast statue of Frederick Douglass to be erected in the city.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, Douglass escaped in 1838 at the age of 20, got married, changed his surname, and joined the anti-slavery movement.

A talented orator, he quickly became one of the most prominent campaigners of the 19th-century as he travelled around telling stories of his life as a slave.

Despite facing many dissenters who doubted his story, Douglass spared no details of the grim reality of slavery in his 1845 book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.

During his speaking tour in Great Britain and Ireland, many people were inspired by his story, and some of his supporters paid off his owner so Douglass could be completely free by law and not fear recapture.

However, Douglass did not stop campaigning after the abolition of slavery in 1865. Instead, he fought for equal rights for African-Americans, arguing against those who wanted freed slaves to leave America.

“We were born here,” he said, “and here we will remain.”

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