Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Collaboration with National Library of Scotland sees launch of new digital resource

Research on the Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass Family has led to the development of an online learning resource on African American revolutionaries.

Struggles for Liberty: African American Revolutionaries in the Atlantic World has been launched by the National Library of Scotland.

Montage photo of Anna Murray Douglass, Josiah Henson, Harriet Ann Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass Jr, and Harriet Tubman
From left to right: Anna Murray Douglass, Josiah Henson, Harriet Ann Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass Jr, Harriet Tubman. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The free digital resource has been developed in collaboration with collector Dr Walter O. Evans, and academic partners in the US and the UK, particularly with the Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project, Our Bondage and Our Freedom, based in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC).

Struggles for Liberty shares the lifelong fight for social justice of African American freedom fighters campaigning in the United States, Britain and Ireland in the 19th century.

The digital platform is the latest resource to arise out of Our Bondage and Our Freedom, following four site-specific exhibitions (including one in the National Library of Scotland), an award-winning book, talks, walking tours, and a documentary. The project's Principal Investigator, Professor Celeste-Marie Bernier, is also currently working on the forthcoming books, The Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass Family Papers 1813-1960, and Douglass Family Lives: The Biography.

Use the Struggles for Liberty digital resource

Anna Murray Douglass, a free woman and activist in her own right, was the cement that held the Douglass family together. International in scope, this learning resource is an invaluable record of the freedom narrative that permeated the Atlantic world during the long nineteenth century.

Professor Earnestine JenkinsDepartment of Art, University of Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Theming histories through a range of media

Struggles for Liberty takes its name from the phrase ‘struggles in the cause of liberty’, written by Lewis Henry Douglass of his mother, Anna Murray Douglass’s, tireless, heroic antislavery and social justice activism.

The resource is structured by theme:

  • the ‘Story of the Slave’ (Frederick Douglass)
  • the History of Black Abolition
  • the US Civil War
  • African American Activists in Scotland
  • the Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass Family

It features writings authored by prominent African American authors, orators, philosophers, reformers, freedom-fighters and campaigners including Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), Maria W. Stewart (1803–1879), Nathaniel Turner (1800–1831), Sojourner Truth (1797–1883), David Walker (1796–1830) and Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931).

Their histories are told through books, letters, photographs and other original documents held at the National Library, in the Walter O. and Linda Evans Collection (now at Yale), and in other US library and archive collections. There are also interactive maps and downloadable learning activities for teachers, including activities mapped to the Curriculum for Excellence.

Scotland played a crucial role in Douglass’s life, placing him on an international stage and helping to forge his word-renowned activism as an antislavery freedom-fighter and social justice campaigner as well as an inspirational author, orator, and philosopher. I am impressed with the Struggles for Liberty online learning resource, complete with its wide variety of historic materials and curriculum-specific learning activities.

Dr Walter O. EvansCollector, conservator, and partner in Our Bondage and Our Freedom

Critical relationships and shared experiences

As a world famous African American author, activist and philosopher, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) is often presented as an exceptional individual working in isolation.

Our Bondage and Our Freedom breaks new ground by reinterpreting Douglass’ activism and authorship in relation to that of his wife Anna Murray, daughters Rosetta and Annie, and sons Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr and Charles Remond, as well as hundreds of 19th century African American campaigners living and working on both sides of the Atlantic.

Writing about this aspect of the project, as reflected in Struggles for Liberty, Ernest J. Quarles, Faculty Member of Johns Hopkins University and African American Policy Forum, Board Member, has said:

“What a timely resource. Historians have a tendency to lionize figures and in so doing often eliminate the critical networks and shared experiences of others who helped support, advance, and sustain the struggle.

This golden resource enables crusaders for justice and liberation in our global community to learn about a shared humanity as evidenced in these histories, narratives, speeches, etc. By so doing they can envision what allyship might look like from an international and intersectional perspective.”

The National Library of Scotland has been delighted to collaborate with Professor Celeste-Marie Bernier on Struggles for Liberty. The quality of this resource was made possible by Professor Bernier’s generous insight, her knowledge, research, conviction and international partnerships with scholars, librarians and archivists. The collaboration as a whole has had an exceptionally positive impact on the Library and has expanded curators’ understanding and knowledge of collections relating to the Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass family, activists and abolitionists in Scotland, and slavery.

Dora PetherbridgeCurator (US and Commonwealth Collections), National Library of Scotland

Related links

Our Bondage and Our Freedom website

Research in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures