They were an ocean and four decades in age apart, but American poet and abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Ireland’s Daniel O’Connell, who drove Catholic emancipation in his country, were cut from the same heroic cloth, U.S. Rep. John Lewis said during a speech in Dublin last month.
Mr. Lewis, a deputy of Martin Luther King Jr. during the U.S. civil rights movement and now a longtime Democratic congressman from Georgia, said the legacies of both men are relevant today as the world continues “the journey down a long road toward the liberation of humankind.”
O’Connell and Douglass met briefly in 1845, seven years after the latter fled the U.S. after escaping slavery in Maryland and crossed the pond to England and Ireland, Mr. Lewis said in the inaugural Frederick Douglass/Daniel O’Connell Address at the Iveagh House, the headquarters of Ireland’s foreign ministry.
In Ireland, Douglass wrote, he was “treated not as a color, but as a man, not as a thing, but as a child of the common Father of us all.”
Checking with historians in the crowd to ensure accuracy, Mr. Lewis asserted that the meeting between Douglass and O’Connell was “transformative” because they realized that they had a common goal and faced a similar adversary even in very different fights.
“There is a spirit of struggle passed down through the ages, and everyone who is a part of it for the same purpose, to share one great truth about the sisterhood and brotherhood of all humankind,” Mr. Lewis said after being introduced as an “iconic figure” by Eamon Gilmore, the minister for foreign affairs and trade.
Mr. Lewis touted nonviolence as still a relevant means of effecting change and said that as the first black president of the U.S., President Obama stands on the shoulders of those nonviolent protestors who marched at Selma, Ala., and later on Washington, enduring multiple beatings to inspire the nationwide uproar that ended segregation.
As a young boy in Alabama, Mr. Lewis said relatives told him to stay out of trouble, to avoid questioning the discriminatory system. But the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks inspired him to get into “good trouble,” he said.
“To read the story of O’Connell and Douglass, I’m inspired to continue to get in trouble, continue to stand up and speak up and speak out,” he said.
Read an Irish Times report on the event here.
See the Irish Foreign Ministry video attached within this story, or watch it here.