A Short History of Douglass Day (text)

Did you know? Douglass Day helped give rise to Black History Month. It’s why we have Black History Month in February.

After Frederick Douglass passed away in 1895, many saw the importance of honoring his memory and activism. In Washington, D.C., a group led by Mary Church Terrell, (an important African American activist, educator, and author) observed Douglass’s birthday every February 14th as “Douglass Day.” See Terrell’s account of creating Douglass Day on the Library of Congress website.

Very important. It proves that I and nobody else established Douglass Day — I did so at a Board of Education meeting held Jan 12, 1897
A note by Terrell about her role in establishing Douglass Day in 1897

Douglass Day quickly became a school holiday across the country, a time to take children in DC and elsewhere out of school to hear Douglass’s words. These celebrations helped give rise to Black History Month, enriching the long tradition of African American rituals for remembering the past. The rituals of remembering became memorials themselves.

Today, we celebrate Douglass Day with a giant birthday party. The Colored Conventions Project helped revive these celebrations as memorials that invite active participation and communal gathering. We hold an online transcribe-a-thon and other events that invite people to participate in the making of Black history.

In 2020, we will focus on Anna Julia Cooper, an African American writer, intellectual, educator, and activist. Our collective efforts—what we create on 2/14—helps to remind us that African American history is American history.

Along with transcribing, we hold readings, discussions, and chat on social media — plus stickers, singing, and birthday cake!

Douglass Day & the Colored Conventions Project

The Colored Conventions Project has helped to revive Douglass Day as a way to celebrate Black History Month with a digital and participatory twist.

Special thanks and acknowledgement are due to leaders on the Colored Conventions Project, including (among many others) Jim Casey, Denise Burgher, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Lauren Cooper, datejie cheko green, Carol Rudisell, David Kim, Allison Robinson, Brandi Locke, and Anna Lacy.

Archive of Previous Douglass Days

2017 – Colored Conventions Project and Transcribe Minutes

2018 – Colored Conventions Project, Smithsonian Transcription Center, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture

2019 – Colored Conventions Project and the African American Museum of Philadelphia

Past posters

Past coverage of Douglass Day

Keyes, Allison. “Frederick Douglass’ 200th Birthday Invites Remembrance and Reflection.” Smithsonian Magazine.

Bruce, Jordan. “Students, faculty transcribe black history in library.” Trinitonian, Trinity University

Capella, Natalia. “Douglass Day celebrates abolitionist’s fight for freedom.” UT Daily Beacon, University of Tennessee.

Caruba, Lauren. “San Antonio students carefully transcribing letters of former slavesSan Antonio Express-News.

Duque, Catalina Sofia Dansberger, “UMBC honors Frederick Douglass’s legacy with event to transcribe Freedmen’s Bureau papers.” UMBC News, University of Maryland-Baltimore County. 

Holland, Maggie. “Making history permanent: UGA participates in Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon eventt.” The Red & Black, University of Georgia.

Hubbard, Kylie. “UT community members gather to celebrate Frederick Douglass.” UT Daily Beacon, University of Tennessee.

Lamson, Lisa. “Frederick Douglass Day: Transcribing History.” Historians@Work, Marquette University.

Larkin-Gilmore, Juliet. “Frederick Douglass Day 2018.” Center for Digital Humanities, Vanderbilt University.

Manser, Ann. “Happy 200th, Frederick Douglass.” UDaily, University of Delaware.

Owens, Ann Marie Deer. “African American history ‘transcribe-a-thon’ honors Frederick Douglass.” Research News @ Vanderbilt University.

Ward, Jared. “Turning historic Freedmen’s Bureau Papers into digital documents at Virginia Tech.” WDBJ CBS-7. (Video)

Weinstein, Carley. “Happy 200th Birthday Frederick Douglass.” News@Hofstra University.

“Celebrating 200 years of Frederick Douglass Through Transcription,” Smithsonian Transcription Center.