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February 11, 2013

Famous Campus Visitors - Frederick Douglass

In 1854 former slave and noted abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, addressed the Western Reserve College Philozetian Society during Commencement Week. His topic was "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically." It was reported that nearly three thousand people attended.

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The Western Reserve College campus at Hudson

From the perspective of 2013, the prospect of listening to a nearly two-hour speech in Ohio’s July heat and humidity seems an unlikely attraction. But, in the 1850s public, written communication consisted of newspapers and magazines - and not too many of them were available on the Ohio frontier. Consequently, long public speeches were the norm. In fact, the student literary societies, like the Philozetian, existed to give students practice in debate and declamation.

Douglass urged his listeners to take an active role in the slavery debate. “The relation subsisting between the white and black people of this country is the vital question of the age. In the solution of this question, the scholars of America will have to take an important and controlling part. This is the moral battle field to which their country and their God now call them. In the eyes of both, the neutral scholar is an ignoble man.”

Quotations are all from John W. Blassingame, ed. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Vol. 2 1847-1854 (Yale University, 1982): 496-525

Posted by jmt3 at February 11, 2013 04:01 PM

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