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Thayer Lecture to focus on writings, life, and legacy of Frederick Douglass

David Blight

David Blight

Author and historian David Blight will trace the life and career of Frederick Douglass as part of the spring 2019 Philip Thayer Memorial Lecture at Randolph College. The event, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for Thursday, February 21 at 6 p.m. in Smith Hall Theatre, which is located in Smith Memorial Building.

Blight will probe the big themes of his new biography, with an emphasis on Douglass’s genius with words and his complicated trajectory from a radical outsider to a political insider after emancipation and the Civil War.

Blight is a professor and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. His latest book, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, was published in October. In addition to numerous other publications, he is the author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, which received eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize.​

“David Blight is a very important scholar of the Civil War era, slavery, and race in America, and it’s hard to overstate his significance in the profession,” said John d’Entremont, the Theodore H. Jack Professor of History at Randolph. “His massive biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, is by no means the last word about Douglass, but so far is the most definitive work we’ve had about his life. It’s beautifully written and is the product of about a decade’s worth of scholarship. I would not be surprised if it wins the Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award—it’s that big.”

d’Entremont encouraged the Randolph community to attend Blight’s lecture and learn about one of history’s most notable authors.

“Douglass himself was, without question, the most famous black American, if not one of the most famous Americans of the 19th Century,” d’Entremont said. “He was famous not only in this country, but also internationally. His autobiographies, especially the first one, are just beautifully and powerfully written, and give all sorts of insight into what it felt like to be owned, and what it felt like to belong to someone else who had absolute power over you. He gives a sense of what it felt like deep inside, even when the owner was far away from you, physically, the knowledge that you were both a person and a thing at the same time, and what that threatened to do to your mind and to your soul.”

Growing up as a slave in Maryland, Douglass would sometimes watch ships come and go in the Chesapeake Bay, longing to see and be a part of the rest of the world. d’Entremont hopes the lecture will inspire guests to extend their own world views and be part of social change.

“I especially want students to go so that they can realize that there are big issues that they need to think about and that they have as much right and as much duty to join in the dialogue as anybody else,” d’Entremont said. “They’re part of this world, and part of these issues too.”

The annual Thayer Lecture, named for a respected Randolph history professor, emeritus, brings a scholar to Randolph College each year to lecture in the liberal arts. The event is made possible by the Philip Thayer Memorial Lecture Fund.

David Blight, a professor and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition…

Posted by Randolph College on Thursday, February 21, 2019

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