Section: News

Chalmers Library hosts its first-ever Douglass Day event

On Tuesday, members of the Kenyon community gathered in Chalmers Library to celebrate the legacy of famed Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass at Kenyon’s first Douglass Day event. Community members learned about Douglass’ 1877 visit to Mount Vernon, listened to Douglass’ speeches, viewed an original 1855 edition of Douglass’ autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom, participated in a scavenger hunt and transcribed the writing of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, one of Douglass’ contemporaries.

Douglass Day was established by Black activist Mary Church Terrell in 1897 to commemorate Douglass’ legacy and celebrate his life. Kenyon’s Douglass Day observance was a joint effort between the Writing Center Director Anna Scanlon and several Chalmers librarians. Having held Douglass Day earlier in her career working in other college writing centers, Scanlon wanted to bring the day to the Kenyon community. 

Scanlon believes that Frederick Douglass’ writings are becoming increasingly relevant in light of curriculum restrictions on critical race theory and Black history in many states. “Douglass is more important to read now than ever because of the banning of various books, especially his own autobiography, which has been banned at multiple points throughout history,” she said. 

Scanlon also believes Douglass Day has a special relevance to the Kenyon community and Mount Vernon. “It’s a really positive way to get to step outside your comfort zone or your Kenyon bubble and see the areas around us because there is so much wonderful Black history here,” she said. According to Scanlon, Mount Vernon was one of the only cities in Ohio founded in part by a Black man, Enoch Harris, who also helped found Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mount Vernon is also the birthplace of Dr. Ellamae Simmons, who integrated the United States Army Nurse Corps and the Ohio State University dormitories. It is also a city which Marian Anderson, a Black contralto singer who performed at Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, visited to perform in. 

In light of this year’s success, Scanlon hopes to co-sponsor the event next year with the local public library and the Knox County Historical Society in order to foster a greater sense of community. “We want to establish a great town and gown relationship, and that’s one way to do it: to learn more about where we live,” she said.

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