Belfast is due to host Douglass Week in 2024, celebrating the life of anti-slavery campaigner and writer Frederick Douglass.
The links between Ireland and the United States are many and well-known. One perhaps lesser-known link, however, is the anti-slavery stance of many prominent Irish figures.
Thanks to this stance, prominent abolitionist writer Frederick Douglass was able to visit the country, delivering anti-slavery speeches.
His visits took Douglass to Belfast, where he inspired further anti-slavery action among its residents. Now, 2024 will see Douglass Week – a celebration of his life and legacy – take place in the Northern Irish capital.
Frederick Douglass – prominent abolitionist and writer
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on a plantation in Cordova, Maryland, in February 1817 or 1818.
He successfully escaped slavery in 1838, travelling north until he reached the abolitionist David Ruggles’s safehouse in New York City. Of his arrival in New York, Douglass wrote, “I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions”.
Despite a lack of formal education, Douglass proved an adept writer and orator, lending his talents to the abolitionist movement. He wrote several accounts of his time as a slave, including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.
He also founded and edited abolitionist newspaper The North Star and delivered anti-slavery speeches across the eastern and midwestern United States.
Belfast – a city with an anti-slavery history
Belfast’s anti-slavery history dates back to United Irishman Thomas McCabe’s abolitionist stance in the 1780s. McCabe vehemently opposed plans by some Belfast merchants to establish a slave trading company in the city.
Interrupting a meeting to discuss such plans, McCabe declared, “May God eternally damn the soul of the man who subscribes the first guinea”.
McCabe’s anti-slavery activism helped foment an environment sympathetic to anti-slavery speakers, and indeed, the prominent abolitionist and writer visited the city on four occasions in the 1840s.
These visits further inspired Mary Ann McCracken – a United Irishwoman and friend of McCabe’s – to establish the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association in 1845.
The city’s overall abolitionist stance culminated in the erection of a statue of Douglass on Rosemary Street earlier this year.
Douglass Week – spring 2024
Organised by US non-profit organisation, the Globe Lane Initiative, Douglass Week celebrates and promotes Douglass’s legacy through discussions, performances, exhibitions, and other events.
The celebration has previously taken place in Cork, Washington DC, and Rochester, with many of the events made available online for those unable to attend in person.
Douglass’s great-great-great grandson, Kenneth B. Morris, spoke of his excitement in bringing Douglass Week to Belfast in 2024.
“I am so excited to be in Belfast for Douglass Week next year, a place where my great ancestor found such friendship and support,” Morris said.
“My family is inspired by the rich history of Northern Ireland, too, and I can’t wait to be back in the city and learn more about the people and places that buoyed Frederick Douglass during his visit”.
More details will be revealed at a later date, but ideas for events can be submitted here.