A £35 million Newcastle University building is set to be named after 1800s anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass.
Douglass, thought to have been born in 1818, was born into slavery in Maryland, USA. Whilst still a slave, he secretly taught himself to read and write. Douglass attempted to escape slavery several times, finally succeeding in September 1838.
After his escape, Douglass married, and became a licensed preacher. When not completing his role at church, he regularly attended anti-slavery meetings and protests, and become known as an anti-slavery orator. In 1843, Douglass began a speaking tour of the Mid-Western and Eastern United States. He published his first book, describing life as a slave, in 1845, and went on to publish several more over the course of his lifetime. His books told of the horrors of life as a slave, and took a firmly anti-slavery stance.
After Douglass’s friends expressed concern that touring the US drew too much attention to Douglass, and could encourage his former owner to attempt to reclaim his ‘property’, he decided to tour the UK and Ireland.
In 1846, Douglass visited Newcastle, to give an anti-slavery lecture. It was during this visit that he finally gained the legal status of a ‘free man’, after a local woman named Anna Richardson, and her sister-in-law Ellen, started a campaign to raise funds to legally ‘purchase’ Douglass from his American owner.
During his visit to Newcastle, Douglass stayed with the two women, in a house in Summerhill Square. Fittingly, the building that will be named after him is situated near the Square, at the Helix site.
The Frederick Douglass centre will open at the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year, and will seat 750 people in its main auditorium, as well as an additional 200 in a smaller lecture theatre. The building’s upper floors will be home to a variety of seminar rooms.
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Suzanne Cholerton, believes that the building will be a “fitting tribute to [Douglass’] role… in the region’s local and global real-life struggles for freedom.
“The Frederick Douglass Centre as a purpose-built educational space is a major boost to our commitment to deliver... excellent facilities for learning and teaching for our students and staff.”