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Transcribe-a-thon Honors Black History on Douglass Day 2021

State College, PA

On Friday, February 12 and 14, 2021, thousands of people will celebrate Douglass Day. The event marks the chosen birthday of Frederick Douglass by inviting members of the public—especially teachers and students—to join an online crowdsourcing project. It’s a way to celebrate Black History Month with a digital twist! 

This year, Douglass Day will feature a crowdsourcing project. The project focuses on the papers of Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954). Terrell is an iconic, even legendary figure in the pantheon of Black women activists. Among her extraordinary accomplishments, she helped to found the NAACP and the NACW (National Association of Colored Women). She lived in Washington, DC for most of her life and helped countless people to earn an education and fight for Black civl rights.

This project is presented in concert with the Library of Congress. The LOC has developed a new platform, By The People (link: Launched in 2018, By The People invites members of the public to transcribe, review, and tag digitized pages from the Library’s collections. Everyone is welcome to take part! Volunteer-created transcriptions improve search, readability, and access to handwritten and typed documents for everyone, including people who are not fully sighted.

Douglass Day was revived in 2017 by a group at the University of Delaware and continues to grow today. The history of Douglass Day reaches back to the origins of Black History Month. Since 2017, more than 5,000 people across North America and Europe have joined in.

Douglass Day 2021 comes in exceptional circumstances. Owing to the pandemic, the event will run virtually. The virtual program will feature a lineup of speakers — including Terrell’s biographer, Alison Parker, and a growing list of VIPs who can speak to the life and legacies of Mary Church Terrell more broadly.

~ Local organizers: please fill in the appropriate info in this last paragraph ~

Here at [NAME OF INSTITUTION], [NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS] have registered to offer their time to help us bring African American history to digital life. This gathering joins forces with more than 2,000 people at twenty-five locations (and counting) across North America & Europe.

For more information, please visit


  • Friday, Feb 12 (12-2 PM EST)
  • Sunday, Feb 14 (2-3 PM EST)
  • Local times may vary.


  • Center for Black Digital Research (DigBlk) at the Pennsylvania State University
  • Pennsylvania State University Libraries, Center for Humanities and Information, and College of Liberal Arts
  • Princeton University Center for Digital Humanities

Lead organizers for media

  • Jim Casey, Penn State
  • Denise Burgher, University of Delaware

Other speakers may be available to interview upon request, including staff at the Library of Congress.

Who: High school students, college and university students, public library users, museum patrons, student groups, amateur historians and genealogists, librarians, archivists, scholars, teachers, activists, church goers, and other volunteers from Washington DC, Delaware, Penn State, across the United States, and around the world. 

What: An online and international celebration of Frederick Douglass’s birthday through a transcribe-a-thon of papers of Mary Church Terrell, held by the Library of Congress. Live performances, singing, and birthday cake will be on hand at many virtual locations.  

Where (participants): Hundreds of people from institutions, organizations, independent groups and as individuals will congregate simultaneously for this event. Select designated locations are open to media inquiries (please contact the lead organizers for more details).

Why: In honor of Frederick Douglass, along with Mary Church Terrell and other Black women activists of the past and present. #TranscribeBlackWomen.

How: Visit the virtual settings where the simultaneous transcriptions are taking place, and follow the action online.

VISUALS: Official opening ceremony with university designates, individuals gathering, meeting each other, singing, celebrating (party / cake cutting), people transcribing (with By The People), short historical presentations (projected archival photographs and original documents), and short scholar interviews.

Additional graphics & visuals are available on the Douglass Day website page for flyers & branding.



What is Douglass Day?

After Frederick Douglass passed away in 1895, African American communities gathered to celebrate his birthday every year on February 14th. These memorials offered a space for reflection on the past and the questions of today. Douglass Day was one of the origins of Black History Month. In 2017, the Colored Conventions Project revived these celebrations as an annual day for preserving Black history. This year, we will hold a transcribe-a-thon and read-a-thon focused on the papers of Anna Julia Cooper. All are invited! Learn more about the history of Douglass Day.

What is a transcribe-a-thon?

During these events, we can help enhance digitized archives. We’ll have food, music, and a fun time! Our main activity will be transcribing the words in all sorts of documents (from letters and diaries to certificates and postcards). Don’t feel comfortable reading old handwriting? Try working in pairs. There’s also lots of typewritten documents that are easier to read. And we have lots of tutorials, guides, and more in the Organizer’s Kit. Let’s dive in!

Quick facts about Douglass Day

  • Douglass Day celebrations began around the turn of the 20th century and helped inspire Black History Month
  • A group at the University of Delaware helped revive Douglass Day in 2017. 
  • This year’s event will be the fifth annual celebration of Douglass Day in its latter day form.
  • Douglass Day helps create new digital resources for African American history each year. All materials created are made free & open to all. 
  • Participation totals: 
    • Estimated totals: 12,550 people in 340 locations
    • 2017 – 250 people in 9 locations
    • 2018 – 1600 people in 130 locations
    • 2019 – 300 people in 9 locations
    • 2020 – 2800 people in 75 locations
    • 2021 – 7600 people in 117 locations

Visuals for coverage about Douglass Day

Available on