Historic Detroit meeting to be subject of symposium

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass

An important moment in the abolitionist movement took place in Detroit in 1859, bringing together John Brown and Frederick Douglass, two of the most recognized anti-slavery crusaders.

Detroit Mercy Law will host a symposium to celebrate the meeting on March 12, the 160th anniversary of the coming together of the two men at the home of William Webb in Detroit.

“Detroit’s Abolitionist Moment: 160 Years of Fighting for Justice” will be from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, in the Clara Stanton  Jones Friends Auditorium of the Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are requested at www.law.udmercy.edu.

John Brown

The symposium, which is made possible with the support of the Dewitt C. Holbrook Memorial Trust, honors the 160-year anniversary of the historic Douglass and Brown meeting by exploring the context in terms of antislavery, black activism and the Underground Railroad in Detroit; the setting of the meeting at William Webb’s house; the series of events that brought Brown to Detroit; and the intellectual anti-slavery approaches of Douglass and Brown.

Brown traveled to Detroit with 11 former enslaved people that were seeking freedom in Canada. The audience will learn about the experience of freedom seekers who crossed the border into Canada. Descendants of the 1859 meeting participants, including a descendant of a former enslaved person who traveled to Detroit with John Brown, are among the presenters.

The symposium features a keynote address by David S. Reynolds, distinguished professor of English and U. S. History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Reynolds is the author of “John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights.”

Additional speakers include:

  • Roy E. Finkenbine, professor of History, department co-chair, director of the Black Abolitionist Archive at University of Detroit Mercy
  • Deanda Johnson, regional manager, Network to Freedom, National Park Service
  • Leslie Williams, Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society
  • Alex Zamalin, assistant professor of Political Science, director of the African-American Studies Program at University of Detroit Mercy
  • Kimberly Simmons, president and executive director of Detroit River Project
  • Darryl Hogan, descendant of a freedom seeker that arrived with John Brown in Detroit in 1859
  • Moderator: Nick Schroeck, associate professor, director of Clinical Programs at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

The event will include a special musical performance by Mosaic Singers from Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit.

“On the 160th anniversary of this important meeting in Detroit, we are excited to learn about the historical context and experience of those who were present,” said Detroit Mercy Law Dean Phyllis L. Crocker. “Remembering the past and working for others in the continued struggle for social justice is an important part of our law school’s mission. We are honored to host this community event celebrating the impact and importance of these two American heroes.”

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