From left to right: Nettie Washington Douglass, Rep. John Lewis, Kristin Leary, and Christine Kinealy pose with a maquette of Frederick Douglass in Ireland 

Irish Times
Fri, Jul 31, 2020, 00:37

Sir, – In August 1845, Frederick Douglass arrived in Europe just months after the publication of his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a stark detailing of the systematic brutality and oppression of American slavery and his personal story of escape. He began his journey in Ireland, where he described being “transformed” by the experience of “being treated not as a color, but as a man,” and where he was inspired by leaders like Daniel O’Connell and his commitment to civil and human rights around the world.

Following in the footsteps of Douglass, US Congressman John Lewis visited Ireland in April 2014 on a civil rights pilgrimage. As part of the trip, the Frederick Douglass Ireland Project was honoured to join the Irish government in hosting this American civil rights icon for the inaugural Frederick Douglass/Daniel O’Connell address at Iveagh House in Dublin. That night, Congressman Lewis described being bloodied and jailed for the “good trouble” he got into, including being beaten close to death on America’s Bloody Sunday in 1965. And he spoke about the lessons of history, the power of reconciliation, and the cause of uniting as one human family – words that resonate powerfully today.

Like Douglass and other African-American abolitionists, Lewis travelled across the island of Ireland. He went to Derry, where he learned more about another Bloody Sunday and walked across the Peace Bridge with John and Pat Hume. He visited Belfast, where he was moved and honorued to see his image newly added to a mural with other towering figures in the fight for human rights. Everywhere, Lewis shared his message of hope, as he did in the address, to “Never, ever, give up, or give in, or get lost in a sea of despair. We must keep the faith, and be prepared for the long march.”

We grieve with the rest of the world at the loss of Congressman Lewis, but we are forever grateful for his example of courage, determination, kindness, humility, and love. We’re working with partners in Ireland and the US to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Douglass’s trip to Ireland and the publication of the Narrative. We look forward to including the work of John Lewis, and all who continue to agitate for change, in those celebrations.


Frederick Douglass Ireland Project,
Atlanta, Georgia, US.