The life and work of the social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was commemorated on Wednesday 13th through the form of a Martin Luther King Memorial Lecture.
Titled ‘I have come to tell you something about Slavery’, the lecture follows on from Black History month. It engaged with a global conversation about Black History and its importance in society.
The event began with a performance by Albion titled: ‘Where do we belong?’. The performance featured a delivery of contemporary problems, such as Brexit, through many forms of media; this included both a video performance and a live performer.
Bearing echoes of slam poetry, the performance set the pace for an evening of intellectual discussion and debate. Much of the script used by the actors included phrasing which introduced the concepts of human currency, self-worth and entitlement. This lay the foundation for the rest of the lecture.
With a large panel of seven speakers, this was set to be an event coloured by the many voices of academics, each of whom experts in their fields. The panel members include:
Dr Hannah-Rose Murray, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh.
Alaisdair Pettinger, Author
Professor Bridget Bennett, Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Leeds
Dr Anita Rupprecht, Principal Lecturer, Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories, University of Brighton
Norma Gregory, historian and curator
Professor Alan Rice, Professor in English and American Studies, University of Central Lancashire
Jade Montserrat, University of Central Lancashire
With the introduction of the panel covered, the lecture ensued. The words of each speaker wove around the central theme of Frederick Douglass and his work as an activist. The narrative of Frederick Douglass’s life was covered through the lens of each academic, who told their version of the slavery narrative regarding his life. There was a focus on Douglass’s purchase of his own freedom and the controversy this provoked due to hypocrisy that was thought to subvert this.
Mr Pettinger spoke of Douglass’s time in Scotland, and how he engaged with Scottish Literature and history, in addition to challenging the ways in which he was represented. The Abolition movement, in terms of its rhetoric of freedom, has often been regarded as linked to the Suffragette movement, something magnified by Professor Bennett. He also emphasised the importance of ‘deeds not words’.
Another theme of the evening was the concept of education and the power it represents. Norma Gregory, Professor Alan Rice and Jade Montserrat all spoke of the power of literacy and communication, whether it be through understanding black historical narratives, or the work of women in the Abolition movement.
The evening received an overall very positive response, though there were murmured questionings amongst drinks and canapes of whether the University should have focused on the Abolition movement more broadly in the wake of Black History Month. Comments did not intend to downplay the work of Frederick Douglass, but more centered around whether his work could have been used as an example in a much broader discussion of Black history.