Bringing Douglass to Life

Dr. David Anderson as Frederick Douglass

Students, educator portray scenes

from the abolitionist's life

By Jherell Drain

Students from a local school and a local educator re-enacted experiences of Frederick Douglass on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 at St. John Fisher College.

The “Frederick Douglass in Ireland” Conference featured members of the Frederick Douglass Club at James P.B. Duffy School 12, led by teacher Michelle Garcia-Daniels.

Sisters Campbell, Delia and Niamh McDade-Clay, presented a skit portraying an Irish family discussing Douglass and his work. They were followed by two male students, Eric Daniels and Yasir Phipps, who recited a speech that emphasized several of Douglass’ experiences after escaping from slavery. 

Daniels portrayed an emotional and apparently frustrated Douglass; Phipps re-enacted a more calm and reserved version of the abolitionist.

Both Daniels and Phipps took turns reciting their sections during the recital of their speech.  After Phipps would calmly share an experience concerning Douglass’ experiences with rejection, Daniels would shout out the sentiments of Douglass.


Daniels shared an experience during which Douglass was rejected entrance into a cabin on a cold, winter night. Douglass was rejected with a phrase that wasn’t uncommon to him: “we do not allow negroes in here!”. 

Daniels and Phipps ended their performance by referring to Douglass’ eventual freedom, during which he finally wasn’t confronted with the phrase: “we do not allow negroes in here!”

Dr. David Anderson, an educator at Nazareth College, followed the boys’ reenactment with his own portrayal of Douglass.

Anderson, dressed in clothing similar to that worn in the relative time period, approached the audience as a somber Douglass.  Anderson then began to share the the concerns of a letter sent to him from his daughter, Annie.  The letter, which informed Douglass of the death of his friend John Brown, led Anderson to reminisce about Douglass’ youth and eventual entry into slavery.

Anderson slowly paced the room as he shared Douglass’s experiences as a child, growing up with his grandmother, Betsy Bailey, in Maryland.  At several points, Anderson stood directly in front of audience members as he shared Douglass’s experiences. Anderson ended his speech by referencing the “disappearance” of Douglass’ grandmother and his subsequent entry into slavery.

Anderson officially concluded his speech by singing “walk with my Lord,” as he slowly walked away from the audience.

The speeches from the students and Dr. Anderson were met with applause and approval from audience members.

“The conference was an excellent educational event for Fisher students,” said St. John Fisher sophomore and president of the campus’ Black Student Union, Olivia Thomas.  “I look forward to what’s in store for next year.”