Frederick Douglass first speaks in Belfast

5th December 1845
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In 1845, the American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) visited Ireland, forging a lasting friendship with our great liberator, Daniel O’Connell. His time here, Douglass said, defined him "not as a colour but as a man." In 1845, he published a memoir of his life as an American slave (which placed him at risk of recapture) and fled to the UK, spending several months campaigning in Ireland. Douglass spoke at events across Ireland, bearing witness to the suffering of the Great Hunger as it began to unfold.

Douglass lectured not just in Belfast but in Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Wexford between October and December 1846. He was back in Belfast the following June, and again in July before returning a fourth time in October 1847 with the prominent American slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

On 5th December 1845, a speech given by abolitionist Frederick Douglass to a large audience in the city was reported as follows:

“Mr. Douglass then came forward and was received with loud applause. He said he felt great pleasure in seeing so many kind and respectable people there assembled, in order to hear an account of the system of slavery from one who had experienced what it was to be a slave. He felt a considerable embarrassment in thus standing before intelligent people, for the purpose of instructing them. Slavery was a poor school for acquiring moral, religious, or intellectual improvement.”

Instead of the bright, blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man.”

Today, he has his very own Belfast wall mural, and Belfast City Council hopes to erect a monument to Frederick Douglass in Rosemary Street.


SEE ALSO "Daniel O'Connell and Anti-Slavery" by Professor Christine Kinealy (Pickering and Chatto, 2011)

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