IN 1845, former slave, abolitionist and key figure in the move towards civil rights for the African American people, Frederick Douglass visited what is now Wexford Arts Centre. He addressed the people on the struggle for civil rights and his journey from slavery to standing before them. It was later noted that Mr Douglass’ visit to Wexford and Ireland was when he “felt human for the first time” and that he was treated far better here than in his native land.
That’s not to say that Ireland has not had its battles for civil rights. Far from it. Its with this in mind that some fascinating topics are due to be explored in what is the third annual Frederic Douglass Civil Rights Festival. The organisers feel the need to reflect the ongoing struggle for civil rights rather than merely looking back to a time when slavery was still to be abolished in the US.
Buoyed by a visit back in August from Frederick Douglass’ great-great granddaughter, the inspirational Nettie Washington Douglass, the organisers have done their best to put together an engaging and thought provoking festival programme which will take place in the Creative Hub Mall, Whites Hotel and the Wexford Arts Centre – a building which Douglass visited all those years ago and which bears a plaque with his name.
The festival gets under way on Thursday, November 25 with the opening of an art exhibition at the Creative Hub by secondary school students, inspired by “The Hill we Climb” by Amanda Gorman, which was read at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.
On Friday, November 26, there will be a video link with Senator Eileen Flynn, the first traveller ever appointed to the Seanad and the first traveller woman in the Oireachtas.
A full day of events get under way on Saturday at noon in Whites Hotel, a debate will take place between local councillors and activists using questions submitted by the general public before a discussion on hate crime legislation in Ireland with Dr Lucy Michael, Bashir Otukoya, Catherine Osikoya and Eoin DeBharduin. From 8.30 p.m. to 11 p.m. that night in Whites, there will be a night of music and poetry from local artists including the likes of JMA, Ronan Furlong, Rachel Grace, Jimi Cullen, Lady Di Beverley and many more.
Moving onto Sunday, November 28, there will be a panel discussion on Direct Provision from 1 p.m. at Wexford Arts Centre, featuring some excellent speakers before a historical talk on Frederick Douglass himself with an expert panel concludes the festival at 3.30 p.m.
For more details on the festival, visit douglassinwexford.com or search for the Frederick Douglass Civil Rights Festival on social media. Tickets for all events are available from wexfordartscentre.ie.