Just in time for Black History Month, the New-York Historical Society is bringing Frederick Douglass’ vision of freedom, citizenship and equal rights to life in a new ongoing special installation opening on February 11, 2022.
A range of artifacts and documents illustrate Douglass’ vision, including illustrations from the popular press of the time and scrapbooks of articles by or about Douglass compiled by his sons that also documented his work to usher in a more just country. Visitors will also see speech excerpt from his contemporary, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who raises the question of gender in step with Douglass’ ideas about racial equality. Political cartoons and a copy of an editorial that Douglass wrote about Chinese immigrants’ right to belong in the U.S. in the Chinese American newspaper are also on view. The maquette of a statue of Douglass erected on the campus of the University of Maryland in 2015, which was gifted to the late Congressman John Lewis, is also on display and a recreation of the Douglass statue, painted to be lifelike, greets visitors to the Museum at the 77th Street entrance.
The exhibit is inspired by Douglass' speech "Composite Nation" that he delivered around the country in the years following the Civil War that declared the nation's mission was to provide the world “a composite, perfect illustration of the unity of the human family.” For what was the U.S., he said, but “the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world?”
In addition to the exhibit, New-York Historical Scholar Trustee and award-winning author David W. Blight and renowned scholar Eddie S. Glaude Jr. bring the speech to life as they discuss what unity means today and where we stand as a country in relation to the legacy of Douglass’ words on February 15.