Frederick Douglass and Ireland: Fighters for Freedom

​By Allison McCarthy

Students and professionals gathered Feb. 22, 2013 at Saint John Fisher College for the second annual Irish Studies Conference, on the topic of Frederick Douglass and Ireland.
Dr. Timothy J. Madigan, director of Fisher’s Irish Studies Program, organized the conference in order to examine a significant chapter in Douglass’ quest for equal rights. The conference featured nearly 20 presenters and two short films, illustrating the life and work of Douglass and why venturing to speak in Ireland was a turning point in his advocacy.

Dr. Donald E. Bain, president of Saint John Fisher College, welcomed the audience around 9 a.m and expressed his own interest on the topic. “It’s helpful to understand what Frederick Douglass...symbolized to many Irish men and Irish women--and that was the struggle for human dignity,” Bain said.

He then introduced Madigan, who set the stage for a 20 minute film on the background of Douglass and his life’s work in the United States. The film, Fighters for Freedom, is from the Frederick Douglass Museum in Washington D.C. It re-enacted the escape, struggle and abolition movement that Douglass lived through.

One item missing from the film was his experience traveling the United Kingdom. The rest of the conference would then elaborate on the mutual benefits of Douglass’ travels to another country facing discrimination.

Madigan then introduced Yantee Slobert, director of Fisher’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, who expressed his interest in Douglass as an African American man living in Rochester, N.Y. He stressed Douglass’ belief in how knowledge leads to freedom and how freedom leads to knowledge.

Kaylee Gebhardt, a student at Saint John Fisher College, had been sitting in the audience for the first two sessions. She was very excited to learn more about Douglass and his unknown journey to Ireland.

At her high school in Cortland, N.Y., Gebhardt said she had learned about Frederick Douglass and his work here in the United States. She had no idea that he was in Ireland for a time, and attended the conference with the hopes of gaining more understanding of our nation’s connection with another country.

Fisher students Katlin Shippy and Allyssa McLaughlin attended part of the conference with their Irish literature class research writing course taught by Fionnuala Regan

Fisher faculty members David Baranov, a sociology professor who was a presenter at the conference, and Rev. Bill Graf, who teaches a course on Celtic spirituality, enjoying part of the conference.

Director of Irish Studies Tim Madigan, left, who organized the conference discusses it with Fisher President Don Bain just before things got under way.