Black Liberation History in the Age of Trump

Frederick Douglass

‘President Trump recently described Frederick Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.” The president’s muddled tense – it came out sounding as if the 19th-century abolitionist were alive with a galloping Twitter following – provoked some mirth on social media. But the spotlight on one of America’s great moral heroes is a welcome one.’ So said Nina Martyris, on 10 February on America’s National Public Radio.

Born into slavery in 1817 not knowing his birthdate, Douglass chose to celebrate his birthday every year on February 14.

‘Frederick Douglass, author, orator, editor, and most important African American leader of the 19th century, was a dangerous illegal immigrant. Well, in 1838 he escaped a thoroughly legal system of enslavement to the tenuous condition of fugitive resident of a northern state that had outlawed slavery, but could only protect his “freedom” outside of the law.’ (David Blight, Feb 7, 2017, The Atlantic)

Having escaped from slavery he fled to Britain and campaigned for support for freedom of US slaves, returning when his British friends purchased his freedom, to help ensure that he could not be captured and returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Writing in The National on 8 February Eric Foner discussed the relevance of that Act in the light of ‘Trump’s executive order barring refugees from Muslim-majority countries and his frequent threats to deport millions of undocumented immigrants bring to mind another era when the federal government acted forcefully to apprehend men, women, and children fleeing oppressive conditions.

James Pennington

His contemporary Black Liberationist and campaigner in Britain James Pennington is also being remembered for his role.

Paul Robeson

The re-discovery of Paul Robeson in the USA is leading to ways in which his songs and deeds ‘light the way for the fight against Trump’.

Robeson’s life was discussed on the USA radio station RN on 21 February, which can be heard at

Go On Singing was the title of a show about Robeson by  Anthony Brown in Philadelphia. A video can be seen at:

There is a mural on Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia. The caption under his feet reads “Citizen of the World.”  See

Meanwhile in Britain musician Joe Stead led a talk, workshop and singing about Robeson at Brixham Theatre on 24 February. Stead is the lead performer with Kimbers Men. He once sang with Robeson at a private event in 1959. He has recently published ‘Ramblings of an Old Codger’ The life story of a nearly famous folk singer. See more at


About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy, housing and environment issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly. I am a member of the Love Norbury Residents Associations Planning & Transport Committees, and Chair of Nobury Community Land Trust. I write for Croydon Citizen at I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and edit the North East Popular Politics database. History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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