HE BELIEVED IN equality for all – men, women, black, white, all people, whatever race or religion – and his experience as a slave spurred him on to travel the world promoting his beliefs.
This inspirational man was Frederick Douglass, an African-American who was born in Maryland and escaped slavery to become a forthright abolitionist.
He wrote about his experiences as a slave in the first of his autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, and went on to travel the world speaking about the abolition of slavery.
Douglass travelled to Ireland and Britain in the 1840s, arriving in Ireland in 1845 at the cusp of the devastating Famine. In total, he spent two years travelling around this part of the world, and one of the cities he visited was Waterford, in October 1845.
A plaque to commemorate his visit to Cork was unveiled in 2012 at the Imperial Hotel.
Pictured at City Hall in Waterford for the unveiling of the Blue Plaque: Dr Ruaidhri Neavyn, President, WIT, Dr Timothy Madigan, St John Fisher College, Rochester, Mayor of Waterford Cllr John Cummins, Dr Donald E Baine, President, St John Fisher College, Rochester and Donal Brazil, Chairman, Waterford Civic Trust. Photo: John Power
This morning, Mayor of Waterford, Councillor John Cummins, unveiled a Blue Plaque on the façade of Waterford City Hall to commemorate Douglass’s visit to the town.
Douglass spoke in the Large Room in the City Hall, on the evening of Thursday 9 October 1845, and it appears that he arrived in Waterford from Wexford on 8 October and left for Cork the day after his speech.
Though the details of his speech in Waterford and its reception are scant, a local newspaper stated that the attendance at the meeting was “…both numerous and respectable…” and that “the cause he so ably advocates deserves the support of every friend to humanity…”.
Douglass later said that his visit to Ireland, and especially his meeting with fellow abolitionist Daniel O’Connell, helped to broaden his political position from campaigning for the end of slavery to campaigning for freedom for all, for equality and an end to poverty.
President Obama mentioned the link between O’Connell and Douglass when he spoke at College Green in Dublin in 2011.
Douglass pictured between 1847- 52. Pic: Wikimedia Commons.
Douglass had a long career as a writer, speaker, civil rights campaigner, presidential adviser and diplomat. He died in Washington DC on 20 February 1895 and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, New York, where he had lived for 25 years.
The Blue Plaque is a joint venture between Waterford City Council and Waterford Civic Trust. This latest plaque will become part of the Civic Trust’s Blue Plaque Trail.
It was unveiled as part of the “Hope and Renewal” Waterford-Rochester Sister City Conference, which is jointly hosted by the Creativity and Culture Research Group, School of Humanities, Waterford Institute of Technology, and the Irish Studies Programme at St John Fisher College, Rochester.