Tuesday, March 29, 2011

President Barack Obama Invited to Unveiling of Fredrick Douglas Monument in Cork

President Barack Obama has been invited to University College Cork when he visits Ireland in May so he may honor Fredrick Douglass, a former African-American slave.

Two Irish-American and two African-American congressmen: representatives Joseph Crowley, John Lewis, Donald Payne and Richard Neal, have penned a letter to President Obama asking him to travel to Cork for the unveiling of the Frederick Douglass monument, which will be the first monument in Ireland to honor an African-American. English artist Andrew Edwards, whose family emigrated from Cork, was commissioned to create the sculpture of Douglass.

Mr Obama dedicated a substantial part of his remarks to Frederick Douglass at the St Patrick’s Day White House reception. Both he and Taoiseach Enda Kenny see a resemblance between the suffering of the slaves brought from Africa and the Irish in the Great Hunger. The Taoiseach is the prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is nominated by the Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Oireachtas, the legislature of Ireland) and appointed by the President of the Republic of Ireland. Don Mullan, a Dublin-based author is the originator of the monument idea and met Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Washington, D.C.

In 1845 Douglass published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave which became a bestseller and influenced American politics. Also in 1845 Douglass began a lecture tour in Ireland, where he “found common ground with the people locked in their struggle against oppression”. Douglass “was shocked and appalled by the living conditions of the Irish peasantry and later likened them to conditions endured by slaves on American plantations”.

Despite the desperate conditions of the populace in Ireland at the start of the Potato Famine, Douglass made personal connections that were to greatly influence his life. Douglass met Daniel O’Connell at a rally in Dublin and the men became friends. O'Connell was an Irish political leader in the first half of the 19th century who campaigned for Catholic Emancipation—the right for Catholics to sit in the British Parliament. O’Connell hated slavery and called Douglass “the black O’Connell of the United States”. Douglass found his months in Ireland were “some of the happiest moments of my life”. The experience transformed him and he said, “I live a new life.”

Mr Obama said Douglass “modeled his own struggle for justice on O’Connell’s belief that change could be achieved peacefully through rule of law ... the two men shared a universal desire for freedom – one that cannot be contained by language or culture or even the span of an ocean.”

Read about reconciliation in Ireland in a speech by Harold Goode - Click Here.