Saint Michael's helps celebrate Frederick Douglass legacy

By: Megan Beatty '20

Students and Faculty combine their transcribing efforts

It was a happy Valentine’s Day at Saint Michael's College this year, but more than that, it was a happy Douglass Day!

Douglass Day is a celebration of the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass, on his chosen birthday, February 14. Born a slave, Douglass never had the privilege of knowing his actual birth date. He escaped slavery in Maryland and became a free man in Pennsylvania in 1838. In his freedom, he chose to celebrate his birthday on the 14th of February. As a free man, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, a preacher, a writer, an activist for women’s rights, and a politician.

In honor of his 200th Birthday, on February 14, 2018, the Smithsonian Transcription Center and the National Museum of African American History and Culture sponsored a national event to transcribe documents from the Freedman’s Bureau. The Freedman’s Bureau was established in 1865 to aid reconstruction efforts in the south, and provided food, clothing, medical care, and more to millions of former slaves. Transcribing involves translating the cursive handwriting of these hundred-year-old documents into type, so that people today can understand and learn from them.

Saint Michael’s College was one of 64 institutions across America to participate in the event. Professor Maura D’Amore of the English Department signed St. Mike’s on to participate because, in her words, “I thought it would be a great way for SMC students, faculty, and staff to come together to help document African-American History and participate in digitization that will help preserve and expand that history for future generations.” Members of our community came together to show their support for African Americans by helping create resources that allow black Americans to explore their ancestry and their history. As a bonus, participants got to eat delicious birthday cake to celebrate Douglass.

In celebrating Frederick Douglass’s birthday, we don’t just celebrate an outstanding individual. We celebrate the spirit it takes for such an individual to fight for social justice, not just for his or her own demographic, but for all marginalized peoples. We honor their passion, and willingness to strive toward freedom and equality. So next Valentine’s Day, let’s remember that February 14 is about much more than relishing one’s romantic life, or sulking over the lack of one. February 14 is also a day to remember the efforts of those who lived before us, who made it possible for us to live as we do today. 

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