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Madame C.J. Walker/Frederick Douglass Symposium to focus on oratory in African-American leadership

October 6, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS -- After escaping slavery, Frederick Douglass became a champion of equality for all people. He shared his experiences and fought for social change through speaking and writing that commanded international attention. His commitment to a wide range of reform causes, including abolitionism, temperance, women's rights and civil rights, was aptly summarized in Douglass' declaration "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

The Frederick Douglass Papers and the Africana Studies program, units in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, will examine the importance of African-American leadership in Douglass' lifetime, while also reflecting on the continued need for such leadership today, when they co-host the Madame C.J. Walker/Frederick Douglass 4th Annual Symposium. The symposium will focus on the theme "Frederick Douglass and the Role of Oratory in African-American Leadership" and will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at the University Tower Ballroom, 850 W. Michigan St. The event continues Oct. 21, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Jewel Center, 3333 N. Illinois St.

Gene Andrew Jarrett, author and associate dean of the faculty (humanities) and professor of English at Boston University, and James Trotman, professor emeritus of English and founding director of the Frederick Douglass Institute at West Chester University, Pennsylvania, will deliver keynote addresses.

Madame C.J. WalkerMadame C.J. Walker

"Better remembered today as an autobiographer, Frederick Douglass was best known in the 19th century as the most powerful African-American orator on behalf of antislavery, women's rights, temperance and civil rights reform. This symposium will gather scholars from numerous disciplines to examine the legacy of Douglass' oratory," said John Kaufman-McKivigan, Mary O'Brien Gibson Professor of History and editor of the Frederick Douglass Papers.

Thursday's program begins at noon, with a scholars workshop featuring a luncheon and opening remarks presented by Kaufman-McKivigan; Marianne Wokeck, Chancellor's Professor of History and director of the Institute of American Thought; and Ronda Henry Anthony, director of the Africana Studies program. The day's itinerary includes:

  • 1-1:30 p.m.: Plenary session: "The Making of the Critical Edition of the Oratory of Frederick Douglass."
  • 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Session 1: "Frederick Douglass the Post-Civil War Orator"
  • 3:45-5:45 p.m.: Session 2: "Assessing Frederick Douglass' Impact on African-American Oratory"
  • 6-7 p.m.: Public reception featuring Civil War-era songs performed by Freetown Village Singers
  • 7-8:30 p.m.: Concluding keynote address by professor Gene Jarrett: "'Bend Down and Measure Him': Frederick Douglass on Racial Civilization at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893."

The symposium continues Friday, with registration from 8 to 9 a.m. A continental breakfast will be served. Opening remarks begin at 9:15 a.m. with Henry Anthony and Kaufman-McKivigan. The opening remarks will include a dramatic reading of Douglass' speech "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"

Additional highlights for the Friday session include:

  • 10-10:45 a.m.: Session 1: "Frederick Douglass' Oratory in the Digital Age"
  • 10:45-11:15 a.m.: Poetry contest on "the world of Frederick Douglass"
  • 11:30-12:15 p.m.: Session 2: Scholars, panel on the legacy of Frederick Douglass' words
  • 12:30-2:15 p.m.: Luncheon and awards presentations featuring a musical performance by Laura Duvall-Whitson and a keynote address, "Prophetic Witness(es) in the Speeches of Frederick Douglass," by James Trotman

"The fourth annual Madame C. J. Walker/Frederick Douglass Symposium focuses on the role of orator," said Wokeck. "In showcasing especially the oratory of Frederick Douglass, this gathering of scholars and modern orators fits particularly well into the mission of the Institute for American Thought, which is committed to present and preserve the power of the word -- written as well as spoken -- and the ideas such words express."

Other symposium speakers include Robert Wallace, North Kentucky University; Jonathan Rossing, Gonzaga University; Julie H. Husband, University of Northern Iowa; Kirt Wilson, Pennsylvania State University; James Conway, IUPUI; and John Ernst, University of Delaware.

In addition to the Africana Studies Program and the Frederick Douglass Papers, the event is sponsored by the Department of Communication Studies and the Department of History, with additional support from the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute; the IUPUI Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and Indiana Humanities.The event is free and open to the public, but advance reservations are advised. To register individuals and groups, please visit the registration pages:

For additional information, please contact the Frederick Douglass Papers by email at douglass@iupui.edu, through Facebook, or by phone at 317-274-5834.