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Douglass in Leeds

Many now recognize the importance of Frederick Douglass' visit to the British Isles in 1845-47, a lecture tour that took him the length and breadth of the country and which secured his international reputation as an anti-slavery campaigner.

His second visit has attracted much less attention. In November 1859, Douglass arrived in Liverpool to begin a speaking tour, arranged long before John Brown's fateful attempt to capture the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry the previous month. In the wake of Brown's arrest it was probably the safest place for him to be, as Douglass was rumoured to have been one of his co-conspirators. Brown himself was executed in December.

His speeches discussed the significance of the raid and, mindful of the deepening sectional rift in the United States, promoted an anti-slavery interpretation of the Constitution.

As it happened, Douglass' tour was largely confined to Scotland and the North of England. In Yorkshire he stayed with his old friend and collaborator, Julia Griffiths (newly married). James Walker, secretary of the Leeds Young Men's Anti-Slavery Society observed: 'His powerful and eloquent appeals deepen our detestation of slavery, and have imparted to us a stronger impulse for, and led us more actively into, anti-slavery work than ever.'

Leeds Metropolitan University have organized a week of events (Mon 30 Nov to Fri 4 Dec 2009) marking the 150th anniversary of Douglass' visit to the city. On the programme are several talks, an anti-slavery walk, a play and a re-enactment of the speech Douglass gave in Leeds Music Hall on 22 December 1859. More details on this flyer.

News of the death of his youngest daughter Annie, aged ten, back home in Rochester, New York, forced Douglass to postpone engagements in Ireland and the south of England. He returned in May 1860, relieved to find that the moment of danger had passed, but pressing political concerns preventing him fulfilling his promise to resume his tour in the near future. In fact he did not visit Europe again until 1886, this time in the company of his second wife, Helen Pitts.

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created by Alasdair Pettinger Thu 19 Nov 2009 22:14 GMT+0000
last updated by Alasdair Pettinger Fri 20 Nov 2009 15:00 GMT+0000
Blog > Douglass in Leeds