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IUPUI creating an interactive map of Frederick Douglass’ travels

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The IUPUI School of Liberal Arts is creating an interactive online map showcasing the travels and speeches of African American activist and orator Frederick Douglass. The school has been working on the map for over ten years and has studied 49 years of Douglass’ 53-year career.

The project is led by multiple IUPUI professors and students who are researching Douglass’ life to put the pieces of the map together. The map is expected to be finished in the next year.

“There’ll be a map with a lot of dots, and when you click on a dot, you’ll get a drop-down box that will tell you the day that Douglass was in this location, what he did, and then if you want a bit more information, you’d find out if it’s a speech, who the audience was, who the sponsors were, what the building was, if it’s an old church, if it still stands … It’ll give people kind of a record to follow Douglass around,” said John Kaufman-McKivigan, one of the professors leading the project and director of the Frederick Douglass Papers.

circa 1879: American journalist, author, former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (circa 1818 – 1895). (Photo by Library Of Congress/Getty Images)

The Frederick Douglass Papers contain written and edited copies of Douglass’ speeches, correspondences and writings, and the interactive map can be used with the papers to provide a different perspective on Douglass’ life and travels.

The map can be a tool used by teachers, professors and people curious to know if Douglass ever traveled to their hometown and, if so, why he came, who did he speak to and what did he speak about? Kaufman-McKivigan said they also plan to organize the map chronologically so users can follow Douglass’ travels down to the date. This comprehensive and free information will allow people to peek into the history of one of the greatest activists of the 19th century.

The researchers have found multiple instances of Douglass traveling to the Hoosier state throughout his life to speak on abolishing slavery, but Douglass had a complicated relationship with Indiana.

“He came to Pendleton, Indiana, which is north of us, and he was invited by a group of Quakers to give an abolition lecture in the 1840s, and, well, the people of Pendleton have their version of the story: they say a mob from Noblesville came over and attacked Douglass, but they seriously injured him. I don’t know if they were trying to kill him or not, but they came pretty close. The Quakers got him out of there, and he recovered, but they broke several bones in his hands. He developed arthritis in his hands because of this visit to Indiana, so I think maybe that’s why he steered around us for a long time,” Kaufman-McKivigan said while recalling one of Douglass’ trips to Indiana.

Kaufman-McKivigan and the professors and students working on the project have vast knowledge of Douglass. They read newspaper clippings, letters sent from and to Douglass, and his written speeches; every piece of information on Douglass available is used to get a comprehensive idea of Douglass’ movements and mindset at the time of travel.

“It’s been very tedious but rewarding …” said third-year IUPUI student Camryn Bembry, who has been researching Douglass’ history in Indiana. “There is so much in old newspapers because A, that was like their sole form of entertainment, so everything was going to be in the newspaper. But when you find the little things, it just makes it all worth it because this is something else I can add; this is a detail that I didn’t know about, this travel,” Bembry said.

Bembry said the experience has built resilience in her, and through it she gained the ability to take control of her research. The guidance she has received from her professors has been a big part of her growth.

“I think that when you’re not seeing results quickly, it will make people want to give up. But I will say, working with Dr. McKivigan, he’s pushed me in the right direction … Just him nudging me, saying, ‘There’s information out there, just find it,’ it’s kind of given me the motivation to keep going and the self-determination to finish what I’ve started.”

The experience has also given Bembry an appreciation for Douglass’ accomplishments and a desire to share his accomplishments with her fellow students.

Bembry said many of Douglass’ views on social justice issues, like voting rights and immigration, are still relevant.

“That’s why I encourage people to read him now because a lot of the things he said in the 1800s are still happening today,” Bembry said.

Contact Racial Justice Reporter Garrett Simms at 317-762-7847

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  1. Wow, an interactive map of Frederick Douglass’s travels and speeches! What a great tool for students and teachers, interested in exploring the long history of the Black struggle for equality and places to belong, in a country claiming to grant equality to all. The efforts of Douglass and other Blacks did more to make this promise “real” than did anything achieved by the Founders. Bravo to the Frederick Douglass Papers project at IUPUI! – Mark Higbee, Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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