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The London house where Frederick Douglass once lived

ABOLITIONIST: Frederick Douglass

ONE OF the most revered black abolitionists in US history was honoured with a plaque last week outside his one-time home in London.

The memorial to Frederick Douglass was unveiled last Wednesday by the Nubian Jak Community Trust in partnership with the American Embassy at Nell Gwynn House in Whiteheads Grove, South Kensington.

It marked 118 years to the day the social reformer died.

Douglass had lived at the house as a guest of British abolitionist George Thompson while lecturing in London on the horrors of the slave trade.

Douglass, born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, was the son of an unknown white father and a black mother, spent the first 20 years of his life in America as a slave, working as a house servant, a field hand, and a shipyard laborer.

He was imprisoned in his teens for twice attempting to run away, but in 1838 he finally escaped bondage and married a free African American woman named Anna Murray. They settled in Massachusetts, where he took the name Frederick Douglass.

After escaping, Douglass became a full-time agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and went on to become a leader of the abolitionist movement. Douglass was known for his powerful oratory and rose to further prominence when he wrote several autobiographies, including 1845’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.

Douglass came to Britain in 1845 where he spent two years giving lectures in churches. It was during this time that he became legally free after his British supporters helped him raise enough money to buy his freedom from his American owner.

Hannah Rose Murray, a historian on Douglass, said: “Through his powerful oratory and fiery rhetoric, Frederick Douglass created a sensation in Britain, and it’s fantastic that his experiences are finally recognised with this Nubian Jak Plaque.”

She continued; “Hopefully we can begin to understand what Britain meant to him, and it should kick-start an international discussion about Douglass’s time here. More importantly, we should all celebrate the achievements of this great man."

The installation of the plaque was streamed live to the US and was formally unveiled by deputy high commissioner of the United States Embassy, Her Excellency Barbara Stephenson.

It was accompanied by an exhibition displaying the work of 150 students from five London schools who had been working with Nubian Jak over the past three months to research the life and times of Frederick Douglass.

Jak Beula, founder of the Nubian Jak Plaque commemorative plaque scheme, said: "It is pleasing and appropriate that during the second term of Barack Obama’s presidency, Douglass should be honoured in the UK for his abolitionist activities and universal stance on human rights."

An exhibition of the students' work is on display at the US Embassy in London until March 21, 2013.

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