From Ireland to Haiti, Frederick Douglass preached freedom

A nine-foot-tall statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the first such tribute to Douglass in Europe, was on exhibit in Boston last week and on display at the Museum of African American History on Beacon Hill at an event aimed at building awareness for the monument and its ties to Boston, Ireland and Haiti.

The sculpture, created by Anglo-Irish sculptor Andrew Edwards, is impressive in its majestic size and its features - dominated by the passionate and resolute facial expression of a then 27-year-old Douglass. Author and activist Dan Mullan, who is currently touring the US to promote both the statue and the connection between Douglass and revered Irish statesman and abolitionist, Daniel O’Connell ( 1775-1847), was on hand at the June 13 event.

Douglass is permanently linked to both Ireland and Haiti, although his visits to these former European colonies took place decades apart. In 1845-1846, Douglass visited Ireland for a speaking tour against slavery. He was a visitor to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, beginning at the age of 71 for what can be labeled as both a prestigious function but controversial mission: As an ambassador to facilitate the sale of a portion of the world’s first black republic.

Douglass was later appointed the first black US minister and consul general to Haiti. This episode of his historical journey offers further evidence of the complex choices he had to make in his life: to criticize or to defend Abraham Lincoln? To reclaim part of Haiti as a colony for emancipated American citizens or to help protect the sovereignty of the first black republic against imperialist tendencies?

In his autobiography first published in 1845 and updated in his later days in 1892 (Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From Slave to Diplomat) he devotes a good chunk of the last chapter to explaining his mission in Haiti and fending off attacks from the New York white media accusing him of being “soft on the black republic” and failing to force the Haitian government of Florvil Hyppolite to sell the Mole St Nicolas as a naval base. The critiques came even as Douglass had the presence Rear Admiral Gherardi’s American flagship in the bay of Port-au-Prince to help assert his request.

Many scholars and historians have concluded that Douglass’s fateful encounter with Haiti’s most prominent intellectual, anthropologist and minister of Foreign Affairs Anténor Firmin was instrumental in preventing the conclusion of the “sale,” which would have made Haiti’s Mole Saint Nicolas what is today known as the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba.

Frederick Douglass.jpg

Original article from The Boston Haitian Reporter


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