Frederick Douglass

Communities across the nation will gather to share their love for Frederick Douglass's work this Valentine's Day.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, from noon to 3:00 p.m. in room 253 of Hodges Library, a celebration of the 200th birthday of the 19th century abolitionist called Frederick Douglass Day will be hosted by the Smithsonian Transcription Center, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Colored Conventions Project along with Professors Matthew Smith and Anne Langendorfer.

Attendees, in conjunction with others across the country, will have the opportunity to help the Smithsonian Transcription Center's initiative to transcribe over two million images from the Freedmen’s Bureau Records.

“The Frederick Douglass Day will allow students to learn and participate in digitizing African American history,” Katy Chiles, associate professor of English, said. “It will (also) speak to their interests in anti-racist work and racial justice.”

The transcription initiative began in 2015 and has sought to create public, digital access to the Freedmen's Bureau Papers.

Established by Congress in 1865 under the name of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, the bureau set to aid in the transition to freedom for previously enslaved peoples by providing food, housing and medical aid while also establishing schools and providing legal assistance.

A live stream of the transcription, short talks from historians and curators and a dramatic reading of a speech by Douglass will all be available on the Smithsonian Transcription Center’s website.

“I am excited to celebrate Douglass and commemorate his work,” Chiles said. “I am also excited to share the experience of transcribing records of African American history with UTK students.”

Born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, Douglass never knew his birthdate but chose to celebrate on Feb. 14 each year. Douglass used his intellect to learn to read and write without the suspicions of his slaveholders and escaped after about 20 years in captivity.

After escaping slavery, Douglass served as an orator and author while remaining a human rights activist in the anti-slavery movement. Douglass was also the first African American to receive a presidential nomination vote at the Republican National Convention of 1888.

Deja Hughes, freshman in economics, said the event will help attendees learn about the details of Douglass's past.

“It is important to know about leaders like him who aid in progression of freedom and equality,” Hughes said. “It is good to know about his experiences so that we don't forget the past; it is extremely important to note his accomplishments.”

Chiles, who teaches an undergraduate class on major black writers, said she has discussed Douglass's 1845 narrative with her students.

“Douglass helped them understand the history of slavery and abolition and the way that African American writers brilliantly used language to tell their own stories,” Chiles said. “Douglass helped them understand their present moment of today by showing how the systems of racial and other types of oppression operate and how they can be overcome.”

Chiles said the event will help students understand the past in a way that will help them improve the present and beyond.

“Douglass teaches us about our country’s past and how to imagine ways to improve our present,” Chiles said.

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