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Honouring Frederick Douglass

Yesterday I attended an event in honour of Frederick Douglass. The event launched a new version of Frederick’s book, first published in Ireland back in 1845. The book contains a foreword by President Mary McAleese and I had the honour of writing the afterword.

Revised version

Douglass’s "Narrative" was last published when Ireland was descending into the nightmare of the great famine. This edition has been edited and introduced by Don Mullan and is called: “The Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass – An American Slave”. Don has kindly donated the proceeds from the sale of this book to Concern Worldwide’s work in Haiti.

Continuing a legacy

We were delighted that Frederick’s great-great-granddaughter, Nettie Douglass, and her son Kenneth Morris were able to join us to launch the book. Nettie and Kenneth set up the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation in 2007 to educate people about all forms of modern-day slavery. Through their work they are continuing their ancestor’s legacy.

Anti-slavery leader

Frederick Douglass was a former slave who went on to become one of the great American anti-slavery leaders of the 1800s. After escaping slavery, Douglass spent two years in Ireland and Britain at the time of the Irish famine. There, he befriended Daniel O’Connell, who was to prove to be a great inspiration to Frederick. During this trip Douglass became legally free, with Irish and British supporters raising funds to purchase his freedom. 

Opposing injustice

Ireland embraced Frederick Douglass and his time here transformed him. His encounter with Daniel O’Connell left an indelible impression on his worldview and he departed Ireland determined to oppose injustice and oppression wherever he encountered it.

Connections

It may seem far-fetched to claim connections between Douglass and the work of Concern Worldwide but claim them we will. The connections rest within a set of values deeply committed to freedom, the achievement of human rights and the realisation of human potential. Such values come together in Concern’s work in Haiti, a country which Douglass loved and a country to whose development Concern is deeply committed. Indeed, Frederick was appointed minister-resident and consul-general in Haiti in 1889. Nettie says:

Frederick Douglass loved Haiti because it was the first country in the world to liberate itself from slavery. Our Foundation is also committed to helping Haiti and we are very impressed by Concern Worldwide’s development and solidarity work there. We are proud to be associated with it.