To pay tribute to African American history month, today I attended the public lecture on Fredrick Douglass presented in the Lewis Glucksman gallery by Nadine Hall, an African American, visiting lecturer. The aim of Hall’s lecture was to demonstrate how American history intersects with Irish history through Douglass’s relationship with Ireland. Before this lecture, I was aware of Douglass’s relationship with Ireland, especially Cork, from undergraduate research on slave narratives such as A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
One article I found particularly interesting in my research that is particularly relevant to Hall’s lecture is Lee Jenkins’s “Beyond the Pale: Frederick Douglass in Cork”. In her article, Jenkins discusses the impact of Douglass’s visits to Cork in 1845 as an antislavery lecturer, and how “Douglass found his freedom through Ireland on a literal as well as a metaphorical level” (91). Christopher Allan Black in his article states that Douglass’s goal was “to develop a coalition between the oppressed peasants and African-American slaves in their native homeland” (17). Black notes that Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison believed that the goals of the Irish Repeal movement and the American Abolitionist movement of the 1840s shared many similarities (Black 17). These similarities between Irish and African-American oppression are accentuated in Hall’s lecture. Hall also provided a brief, in-depth overview of the history of the slave narrative by examining African American figures that preceded and influenced Douglass.
Although Hall’s lecture failed to provide me with any additional information about Douglass that I did not already know, I found her discussion of the literary bedrock that Douglass built on to be beneficial in comprehending the historical context of his work. It is evident from Hall’s lecture that Douglass’s relationship with Ireland influenced his strive for African American emancipation, but Hall never discussed the proverbial elephant in the room, which included Irish-American’s negative perceptions of antislavery and their cruel treatment of blacks in America. I suppose it is excusable not to do so, considering her Irish audience may be offended, but at the same time it is a dark reality that cannot ignored.
Jenkins, Lee. “Beyond the Pale: Frederick Douglass in Cork.” The Irish Review 24 (1999): 80-95. JSTOR. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
Black, Christopher Allan. “Frederick Douglass, Daniel O’Connell and the Transatlantic Failure of Irish American Abolitionism.” Web. 24 Nov. 2011. PDF File.