Douglass Week kicks off in Belfast this week

A celebration of the life and work of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Douglass Week kicks off in Belfast this week.

Douglass Week kicks off in Belfast this week.

One of the more positive aspects of Belfast’s storied history is its stance on slavery in the United States and elsewhere in the 1800s. Several of the city’s most prominent figures were vociferous in opposing this crime against humanity.

It’s appropriate, then, that prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass should be celebrated in the city. Belfast erected a statue of Douglass in 2023 and will this week honour his legacy with a week-long celebration.

Frederick Douglass – abolitionist and writer

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the United States, in Maryland in February of either 1817 or 1818.

He successfully escaped enslavement in 1838, before travelling north to seek refuge in abolitionist David Ruggles’s New York City safehouse.

As a free man, Douglass became a celebrated writer and orator and lent those talents to the abolitionist movement. His best-known account of slavery is the 1845 memoir Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

Douglass Week comes to Belfast – 14-20 April

Credit: Pexels/ Faheem Jackson

Douglass spent plenty of time in Ireland, and the first Douglass Week took place on the island in 2021.

Since then, efforts have been made to focus more on specific locations, with the event taking place in Washington, DC, and Rochester, New York, in the following years.

This year’s edition of Douglass Week kicks off on Sunday, 14 April, in Northern Ireland’s capital city, Belfast.

Douglass spent much of his time in Ireland in Belfast, after feeling welcome by the abolitionist stance of many of the city’s most prominent figures.

For example, United Irishman Thomas McCabe strongly opposed plans to establish a slave trading company in the city in the 1780s. “May God eternally damn the soul of the man who subscribes the first guinea”, he reportedly said at a planning meeting.

Inspired by McCabe and one of Douglass’s visits to Belfast, United Irishwoman Mary Ann McCracken established the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association in the city in 1845.

Key events – what to look out for at Douglass Week

Credit: Geograph/ Rossographer

Douglass Week kicks off with a welcome event at the Frederick Douglass mural on Northumberland Street at 12 pm on Sunday, 14 April.

Sunday will also see a guided walking tour with Anti-Slavery Belfast. The two-and-a-half-hour tour will leave the Salmon of Knowledge (aka, the Big Fish) at 1:30 pm. Tickets cost £25 per person.

Highlights across the week include readings of Douglass’s work and screenings of documentaries Black, Northern Irish and Proud and The Rise of Hip-Hop in Northern Ireland, along with other important films at the Queen’s Film Theatre.

The week is laden with several panel discussions and workshops, details of which can be found on the Douglass Week website.

Douglass Week culminates in Harmonies of Freedom: Honouring Frederick Douglass in Belfast, an evening of performances and readings honouring Douglass and his family. This takes place at the Duncairn Centre. Tickets cost £12 and are available here.

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