In 1845, as Ireland was descending into the despair of the Great Hunger, Frederick Douglass arrived for a four-month lecture tour of the island. Douglass had escaped slavery in Maryland seven years earlier, and had recently published his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Douglass was greeted in Dublin, Belfast, and Cork by enthusiastic crowds and formed many friendships on his trip, most significantly with Daniel O’Connell, a figure still revered in Ireland today for his role in Catholic emancipation and his fierce opposition to slavery. O’Connell and Douglass shared the stage just once, in September 1845 at a rally in Dublin, but retained a mutual respect and affection until O’Connell’s death less than two years later – and Douglass acknowledged O’Connell’s influence on his philosophy and worldview for the rest of his life.
Belfast media published an article on a speech given by abolitionist Frederick Douglass to a large audience in the city on 5th December.
“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 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.”
Photo: Frederick Douglas mural on the ‘Solidarity Wall’, Belfast