Tom Chaffin: Frederick Douglass In Ireland

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Wednesday March 13

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6:30 PM  –  8:00 PM

 

Independent scholar and historian Tom Chaffin presents this fascinating chapter in the life of America's foremost agitator, Frederick Douglass.

In 1845, seven years after fleeing bondage in Maryland, Frederick Douglass was in his late twenties and already a celebrated lecturer across the northern United States. The recent publication of his groundbreaking Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave had incited threats to his life, however, and to place himself out of harm's way he embarked on a lecture tour of the British Isles, a journey that would span seventeen months and change him as a man and a leader in the struggle for equality.

It was, however, the Emerald Isle, above all, that affected Douglass--from its wild landscape ("I have travelled almost from the hill of ‘Howth’ to the Giant’s Causeway") to the plight of its people, with which he found parallels to that of African Americans. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, critic David Kipen has called Chaffin a "thorough and uncommonly graceful historian." Possessed of an epic, transatlantic scope, Chaffin’s new book makes Douglass’s historic journey vivid for the modern reader and reveals how the former slave’s growing awareness of intersections between Irish, American, and African history shaped the rest of his life.

The experience accelerated Douglass's transformation from a teller of his own life story into a commentator on contemporary issues--a transition discouraged during his early lecturing days by white colleagues at the American Anti-Slavery Society. ("Give us the facts," he had been instructed, "we will take care of the philosophy.") As the tour progressed, newspaper coverage of his passage through Ireland and Great Britain enhanced his stature dramatically. When he finally returned to America he had the platform of an international celebrity.

Drawn from hundreds of letters, diaries, and other primary-source documents--many heretofore unpublished--this far-reaching tale includes vivid portraits of personages who shaped Douglass and his world, including the Irish nationalists Daniel O'Connell and John Mitchel, British prime minister Robert Peel, abolitionist John Brown, and Abraham Lincoln.

Giant’s Causeway--which includes an account of Douglass's final, bittersweet, visit to Ireland in 1887--shows how experiences under foreign skies helped him hone habits of independence, discretion, compromise, self-reliance, and political dexterity. Along the way, it chronicles Douglass’s transformation from activist foot soldier to moral visionary.

About Tom Chaffin: Tom Chaffin is the author of, among other books, Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah and Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire. His writings have also appeared in the New York Times, the Oxford American, Time, Harper's, and other publications. He lives in Atlanta.

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