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British Women in the Liberation of Frederick Douglass

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As part of the university’s ‘Insights’ public lectures series, Professor Leigh Fought – associate professor of history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse – gave a lecture celebrating Black History Month.

Fought addressed an audience of around 200, all of whom listened in rapt attention as she discussed the life of former slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. The focus of the lecture was on Fought’s newest book, Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, which focuses on a group of women who have been less-researched than Douglass, but ensured his success in life and aided his liberation from slavery. 

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery at age 20, but he was not free under federal law and could have been recaptured and forced back into slavery at any time. As a boy, he was taught to read by his master’s wife. Douglass went on to write multiple books on his experience of life as a slave, going into explicit detail and criticising both the system and its complicit bystanders. He later started his own anti-slavery newspaper, with funds raised by women he stayed with during a visit to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

In 1845, Douglass visited Ireland and stayed with the Jennings sisters. He spent his time giving lectures around the country, and then moved onto Britain and continued giving speeches. Fought described this time as a moment of contingency, between Douglass being a minor civil rights figure, and a major part of US history. Whilst in the British Isles, he faced little to no animosity from the public, saying himself that  he was treated ‘not as a colour, but as a man’.

Fought came to Newcastle because it was here that Douglass secured his freedom

Fought came to Newcastle because it was here that Douglass secured his freedom. The Richardson sisters, from Newcastle, were held in high respect by many reform and abolitionist movements, and raised the equivalent of $24,000 on Douglass’ behalf, allowing him to buy his freedom from his American master.

Fought detailed how pro-abolitionist women were often responsible for fundraising and organising, work  which men deemed insignificant, but which was, in reality, completely vital. Fought believes that the women in Douglass’ life were the ones fighting the hardest to help him: housing him, and giving him access to the resources he needed to gain his freedom.

His second wife, Helen Pitts, was responsible for telling Douglass’ story after he had passed away. She opened his house as a museum, and gave the public access to his work and documents, all of which continue to this day.

Fought received lots of interested questions from her captivated audience, many of them asking for more information, or giving her more details on the abolitionist movement in the North East. The applause that followed her lecture gave way to many of the audience waiting to talk one-on-one with the professor, buying her newest book and discussing Women in the World of Frederick Douglass. 

Discussion on the life of Frederick Douglass will continue during the public lecture: Insights: “I have come to tell you something about slavery’, on the 13th of November

Discussion on the life of Frederick Douglass will continue during the public lecture: Insights: “I have come to tell you something about slavery’, on the 13th of November. A panel of the country’s leading experts will discuss the historic links between slavery, Newcastle, and the UK.

 

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

Last modified: 23rd October 2019

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