It will be
another full year before historians and admirers of Frederick Douglass
mark the 200th birthday of the famed abolitionist, author and orator,
but there was plenty of celebrating — all for a good cause — at the
University of Delaware this month.
Through the Colored Conventions Project
(CCP), a national initiative founded and hosted at UD, organizers held a
“transcribe-a-thon” as part of a 199th birthday party for Douglass.
Born into slavery in 1818, he never knew his exact birthdate but chose
to celebrate it on Feb. 14.
This Tuesday, Feb. 14, dozens of participants gathered in a room in
UD’s Morris Library to mark the occasion, complete with birthday cakes
adorned with portraits of Douglass. Similar festive transcribe-a-thons
were held at the same time at eight other U.S. locations, including
Brown University and Winterthur Museum, with participants connected via
live video streaming and social media.
Featuring music and inspiring speeches, the gathering at UD
deliberately replicated some aspects of the 19th century “Colored
Conventions” in which free and fugitive African Americans came together
to strategize about achieving educational, legal and workplace access
Those early organizing efforts for social justice are the focus of
the CCP, which seeks to collect and digitize the minutes and other
records from the numerous state, local and national conventions that met
from 1830 through the 1890s in various locations.
Delegates to the conventions included leading African American
writers, educators, church leaders and others, with Douglass the most
Minutes of the conventions have been rare, out of print and housed in
separate locations. Since 2012, the CCP has been working with partners
and volunteers to transcribe the records in a single online, searchable
location for use by scholars and the public.
“This is a collaborative project … that couldn’t have happened
without all the people who have helped” across the United States, said
CCP founding director P. Gabrielle Foreman, who is the Ned B. Allen
Professor of English, professor of history and Black American studies
and a senior research fellow with the UD Library. The project has
reached thousands of U.S. students through a network of national
teaching partners and curriculum and research guides.