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SRtRC Attends Frederick Douglass Unveiling

On the 14th February 2023, a long running campaign to memorialise and celebrate one of history’s foremost abolitionists, reached another significant milestone. Community leaders, local historians, members of the public, along with representatives from the worlds of anti-racism, politics, sport, faith and healthcare gathered together to unveil a plaque recognising the tireless anti-enslavement campaigning of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass is well known for his role in the abolition of slavery but what is less well known is the time he spent travelling around the UK on a lecture tour, including a stop off in Hawick in the Scottish Borders. Show Racism the Red Card joined the American Consul, Jack Hillmeyer, Honorary Provost and Convener of Scottish Borders Council Watson McAteer, Reverend Alistair W Cook, Dr Alasdair Pettinger, Cameron Knox, Hawick Archaeological Society President and Vice President , Evelyn Jackson and Alastair Redpath and Rory Bannerman of Hawick Rugby Football Club at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating Douglass’ anti-slavery speech in Hawick’s West End Chapel in 1846.

His unlikely speech in the Scottish Borders came as part of a wider tour around Britain and Ireland, highlighting the atrocities of slavery across the atlantic. Douglass himself was a slave who had been taught to read and write by his “owner’s” wife prior to his escape by the age of 20. From then on his commitment to the abolitionist movement was unwavering, through the publication of abolitionist newspapers, his harbouring of fleeing slaves on the underground railroad and his work in recruiting men for the Civil War.

However, before all of this, the publication of his autobiography threw him into the limelight in 1845 and gave his lecture tour of around the UK an added appeal. After the publication of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he spent the best part of two years sharing the stories of slaves on the other side of the Atlantic. Douglass was brought out of slavery during his time touring in Scotland, meaning he was a free man upon his return to the USA.

One of the driving forces behind the project to memorialise Douglass is local lawyer and Hawick RFC past president Rory Bannerman. Bannerman said of SRtRC’s attendance “With the unveiling of a memorial plaque to one of world history’s most important people, Hawick was delighted to invite representatives from SRtRC to join us. There is no doubt that the great Frederick Douglass would have thoroughly approved of SRtRC attending and indeed he stood for all that the charity also stands for.”

SRtRC is managed in Scotland by Chris Priestley, who was able to attend the day’s events, before sharing a Q&A panel with former Hibernian FC player and charity patron Michael Weir at Mansfield Park, home of Hawick RFC. During this well attended event, members of the public were invited to reflect upon the continued presence of racism not only in sport, but also Scottish society more broadly. Discussion ranged from historic and contemporary systems of injustice, racism within British football (past and present), identity and othering within schools, effective methods of challenging racism, including the relative merits and appropriate moments for calling in and calling out.

Chris had this to say “We are extremely grateful for Hawick’s continued support for our charity and our broader campaign for anti-racism. We are delighted that this commemoration will be followed up in local schools with black history.”

Hibernian FC legend and long standing supporter and coach of SRtRC, “I would say the day itself was very humbling and historic for Hawick. The Q&A session showed that many people in the town would not tolerate any discrimination both in sport or everyday life with a special mention for Rory who is a huge supporter of the SRtRC campaign and made a lot of people aware of the work we do in communities and Schools etc”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article listed Rory Bannerman as the current President of Hawick RFC rather than past president and referred to Hawick’s former Mayor, Zandra Elliot. It also failed to mention the contribution of the Hawick Archaeological Society to the day’s proceedings. SRtRC Scotland would like to convey our apologies for these editorial oversights.

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