Frederick Douglass: An Abolitionist Returns to Bristol

Bristol Old Vic and Colston Hall present

“I came here as a thing. I go back as a human being.”
– Frederick Douglass, Bristol 1847

From St. Paul’s to Clifton, via the Seven Stars, the Cathedral, City Hall and more, abolitionist Frederick Douglass is retracing the steps of his 1846–47 campaign trail.

Born into slavery in 1818, eleven years after the slave trade was outlawed in the U.K. but nearly fifty years before slavery itself was abolished in the U.S., Douglass bravely escaped and gained his freedom aged just 20. Having learned to read by stealth when a slave, he went on to agitate by any means necessary, stirring up support for the antislavery movement with his charismatic orations and raising funds for this work during his tours of Europe. It was these tours that brought him to Bristol.

Today, icons of film, theatre, politics and religion are come together to celebrate his bicentenary, marching the streets of Bristol to deliver extracts from his rousing speeches on abolition, suffrage, equality and more, interwoven with contemporary references – his words as pertinent now as they were then.

The unquiet ghost of Frederick Douglass, forward-thinking political reformer and powerful agent of change, is alive in the city, and urging us to ask the question: who are our unsung heroes of change today?



During the course of the day, the spirit of Frederick Douglass will appear in the persons of:

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic
Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet
Danny Sapani, Actor (Misfits, The Crown, Black Panther)
Rose Hudson Wilkin, Chaplain to the Queen
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol

At the end of the tour, celebrated vocalist Carleen Anderson will perform at the Wills Memorial Building.

Devised by
Edson Burton with Tom Morris

The campaign trail

08:15 – Alfred Fagon Statue
10:00 – The Seven Stars Public House
10:30 – Queen Square
11:00 – Marsh Street
12:00 – Inside Bristol Cathedral
13:00 – Outside City Hall
14:00 – Wills Memorial Building

Join the campaign trail from beginning to end, or dip in and out throughout the day.

If you would like to join us for the full walking tour, please register your interest on Eventbrite to reserve your map for the day.

Year of Change

The Frederick Douglass Project is part of the Year of Change programme, and emerged from conversations between Bristol Old Vic, Colston Hall and Bristol-based writer and historian Dr. Edson Burton, in search of a project that could meaningfully form an annual commemoration of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its legacy. Edson Burton is adapting Frederick Douglass’ words for this event.

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