The birthday of Frederick Douglass, prominent abolitionist, writer, speaker and the most photographed man in the 19th century, is a widely celebrated part of Black History Month. Since the turn of the 20th century, Douglass Day celebrations have been observed on Feb. 14, the birthday that Douglass chose for himself.
This year, Trinity University’s Humanities Collective and the Student Diversity and Inclusion office participated in the nationwide observance of Douglass Day by hosting a transcribe-a-thon for the Colored Conventions Project in Coates Library. Trinity students, staff, faculty, and community members joined 7,400 people in 134 locations across the country in transcribing the works of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a prominent 19th-century activist, journalist, teacher, intellectual, and lawyer whose work was platformed this year to remember her 200th birthday. Shadd Cary was one of the first Black women to edit a newspaper, attend law school, and serve as a Civil War recruiter.
This is Trinity’s third year contributing to the nationwide Douglass Day festivities. As they transcribed Shadd Cary’s works, Trinity participants enjoyed some birthday cake and watched the Douglass Day livestream, featuring lectures, readings, and discussions about Black history as well as coverage of other Douglass Day celebrations taking place across the nation. Co-director of the Humanities Collective and English professor, Claudia Stokes, Ph.D., highlights the collaborative aspects of this initiative. “It’s not an accident that this takes place during Black History Month, so this is a great opportunity for the whole Trinity community to come together and work to support the recovery and the preservation of Black history,” Stokes says.
Cutter Canada '24 (center) and Vivian Le '24 (left) work with Thomas Bates '23 to transcribe a handwritten document.
The Douglass Day event provided students the unique opportunity to help transcribe primary documents, both printed and handwritten. As many archives are moving online, this digital archiving work is particularly crucial for the preservation and documentation of history and literature.
“As we’re moving into a digital age, a lot of these writings by Black authors can get left behind. It’s important to get young academics involved to understand the importance of archival work,” says Jacob Iverson ’24, a junior art and communication double major.
Getting the entire Trinity campus involved with Douglass Day is important for the inter-humanities context of Black History Month. “Considering the humanities as a collection of disciplines that studies history and textuality, Frederick Douglass is a figure who requires the tools of many humanities fields to study and to understand,” says English professor and Humanities Collective co-director Kathryn Vomero Santos, Ph.D. “This initiative shows the importance of collaborative work in bringing documents that have been unavailable or obscured into public conversation. We should be doing more to open the humanities to Black histories and foreground them in our teaching, our reading, and in our public conversations.”
Vivian Le ’24, a junior art history student, emphasizes the importance of bringing obscured Black histories to the forefront. “It’s crucial to highlight these Black authors and raise awareness that these people did exist back in the day. You don’t really hear about them in history, and it's important to preserve their memory,” she says.
“Douglass Day provides a great opportunity for people to get involved in the preservation of Black history in a community, humanities-based setting,” Santos says. “There's a tendency to think that in the humanities we’re just sitting around as individual scholars reading books by ourselves, but a lot of our work is collaborative and relies on communities of inquiry. It's exciting to be able to come together, have some cake, and show how many hands, eyes, ears, bodies, and minds are required to generate and preserve knowledge.”
For more information about Douglass Day, Mary Ann Shadd Carey, and The Colored Conventions Project, visit https://douglassday.org/.
“Our collective efforts—what we create on 2/14—helps to remind us that African American history is American history."