(John Muller’s article appeared in Shakespeare and Beyond, 7/19; via Pam Green.)
In his life and times Frederick Douglass was known around the world as an orator, abolitionist, suffragist, and reformist. While living in Washington, DC, where he spent the last quarter-century of his life, he was also known to many as an admirer of William Shakespeare.
Today, tens of thousands of people visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site each year at Cedar Hill, Douglass’s home in Anacostia, where the library shelves hold volumes of Shakespeare’s complete works and a framed print of Othello and Desdemona hangs above the mantle in the west parlor.
Douglass frequently alluded to Shakespeare in his oratory and was known to attend performances of Shakespeare at local Washington theatres. On at least two occasions Douglass served as a thespian for the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, a community theater company.
Furthermore, as a philanthropic patron of the arts, Frederick Douglass used his networks and influence within Washington society to support and advance the careers of Black artists, nearly a century before the Black Arts Movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Listen to a BBC Radio 4 “In Our Time” broadcast on Douglass