Belfast City Centre is now home to a bronze statue of Frederick Douglass, an American author, anti-slavery campaigner, and early champion of women's rights.
Douglass, a former slave who became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in America, first visited Belfast in 1845 at the invitation of the Belfast Anti-Slavery Society and returned for a second visit in 1846.
The life-size statue unveiled in Belfast on Monday was created by Scottish figurative sculptors Alan Beattie Herriot and Hector Guest. It is located beside the historic First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street where Douglass delivered lectures during his time in Belfast.
The project was funded by Belfast City Council and the Department for Communities.
This morning Lord Mayor @CllrRyanMurphy helped unveil a statue of anti-slavery campaigner & author, Frederick Douglass.
Douglass was a leader of the abolitionist movement in America & visited Belfast in the 1840s. The new statue is at the junction of Rosemary St & Lombard St. pic.twitter.com/0ZYv3YsgP0— Belfast City Council (@belfastcc) July 31, 2023
Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Ryan Murphy said: “Frederick Douglass was an inspirational leader best known for his anti-slavery writings and campaigning, but he was also an early champion of women’s rights and many of his values and beliefs are as relevant today as they were in the nineteenth century.
“I’m honoured to be involved in the unveiling of a statue recognising his impact. This will help people’s understanding of the positive, progressive role he played in the city’s early development. It is also very fitting that it is located in Rosemary Street close to where he delivered some of his inspirational speeches.”
Anna Slevin from the Department for Communities said: “The Department remains committed to the development of villages, towns and cities across Northern Ireland through initiatives which promote urban renewal and develop public spaces.
“This landmark statue of Frederick Douglass is commendable for many reasons. It ties together the past, present and future of Belfast, while recognising the role this city played in global events as it served as a platform for historical figures.
"Alongside its historical significance, this statue is very much a creative endeavour which enhances this part of Belfast by adding an artistic flourish to the streetscape.
“I am pleased to acknowledge the Department for Community’s contribution and commend the efforts of all those involved in making this statue a reality.”
Artist Alan Beattie Herriot said: “I was delighted to be commissioned to produce this memorial to Frederick Douglass; a man whose extraordinary oratory abilities allowed him to champion the fight to abolish slavery.”
Speaking with the PA during Monday's unveiling, Irish American historian and professor Dr. Christine Kinealy, the author of "Douglass and Ireland: In His Own Words," said: “Frederick Douglass is increasingly a symbol of international social justice.
“This is something that’s very dear to many people within Belfast, so I hope this place becomes a rallying point for people who want to effect real change and to have a more inclusive, equitable future for all people of Ireland.”
Kinealy added: “[Douglass] was just so incredibly articulate, and so thoughtful in his commentary, and even more incredible when you think it was illegal to teach people who are enslaved to read or write, so he was totally self-taught.
“I think the most beautiful is that when he was leaving Belfast, he said: ‘Wherever else I feel myself to be a stranger, I will always know I have a home in Belfast.’
“And to me that’s what today represents, Frederick Douglass finally coming home to Belfast to be amongst the people he loved.”
Also on hand for the unveiling on Monday was Gerry Adams, the former President of Sinn Féin:
This morning Belfast City Council unveiled a statue to escaped slave, refugee and human rights activist Frederick Douglass. It is a striking and remarkable image of someone who made a huge contribution to challenging injustice and slavery. pic.twitter.com/ryapeTYqpl— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) July 31, 2023
Coinciding with Monday's unveiling, Belfast was announced as the host city for Douglass Week 2024, an annual global event series featuring creative, collaborative, and critical responses to Frederick Douglass.
📣 HAVE YOU HEARD THE NEWS? 📣 We announced officially during #DW2023, but... 👏 WE ARE GOING TO #BELFAST for #DouglassWeek2024!!! 😍😍😍 SO excited and can't WAIT to collaborate with and celebrate #FrederickDouglass and local changemakers with the fantastic people of #NorthernIreland and from around the world #JoinUs! ℹ️ Watch this space: more information coming soon! 💻 Visit our website to learn more and to get involved! ❓Do you have any questions? Get in touch! We look forward to hearing from you!Posted by DouglassWeek on Monday, July 31, 2023