Anti-slavery campaigner celebrated


A statue of the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass has been unveiled in Belfast.

An American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman, Douglass was born into slavery but managed to escape in 1838 and went on to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement in America, known for his eloquent speeches and writings.

He first visited Belfast in 1845 at the invitation of the Belfast Anti-Slavery Society and returned for a second visit in 1846.

Now the first statue of Douglass in Europe has been located in Lombard Street, where he delivered lectures during his time in Belfast.

A generation earlier, Thomas McCabe, a Presbyterian radical and United Irishman, had kept slave ships out of Belfast and helped prevent the slave trade from ever taking hold in Ireland.

Before leaving Belfast in January 1846, Frederick Douglass uttered the heartfelt words: “Wherever else I feel myself to be a stranger, I will remember I have a home in Belfast.”

At the unveiling of the statue, Professor Christine Kinealy, the author of a book on the writer and statesman, spoke about Douglass’ significance to Belfast.

“Frederick Douglass is increasingly a symbol of international social justice,” she said.

“This is something that’s very dear to many people within Belfast, so I hope this place becomes a rallying point for people who want to effect real change and to have a more inclusive, equitable future for all people of Ireland.”

Douglass gave around 50 speeches in his time in Ireland and could speak for up to two hours without notes.

Dr. Kinealy said the statue was a homecoming for Douglass, who often expressed his love for the city.

“He was just so incredibly articulate and thoughtful in his commentary, and even more incredible when you think it was illegal to teach people who were enslaved to read or write, so he was totally self-taught,” she said.

“I think the most beautiful [thing] is that when he was leaving Belfast, he said: ‘Wherever else I feel myself to be a stranger, I will always know I have a home in Belfast.’

“And to me, that’s what today represents: Frederick Douglass finally coming home to Belfast to be amongst the people he loved.”

The Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast, Ryan Murphy, said: “I think it’s absolutely fantastic, it’s important that we tell the history of Belfast.”

He added: “Frederick himself was the leader of the abolitionist movement; he was a former slave and he had to come to Britain and Ireland in fear of being captured again back in America, and during that time he noted the welcome that he received in these parts.

“He was brilliant in terms of his ideas and beliefs, and I think it’s important this is here, and we can actually tell that story and talk about his ideas and beliefs, and they’re still as relevant today as they were in the 19th century.

“We should also make sure that today, 2023, that we’re as welcoming to those newcomers to the city as the same welcome that Frederick got when he arrived here back in 1845.”

A large contingent from Belfast Sinn Féin was on hand for the unveiling of the statue, which is accompanied by the Douglass quote, “If there is no struggle there is no progress”.

Praising the sculptors, former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the statue was a striking and remarkable image of someone who “made a huge contribution to challenging injustice and slavery.”

“It is a great addition to Belfast and a reminder of the anti-slavery stance of earlier generations,” he said.

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