Struggles for Liberty home page

New digital resource on African American revolutionaries

The National Library of Scotland has launched an online learning resource – Struggles for Liberty: African American Revolutionaries in the Atlantic World. It shares the lifelong fight for social justice of African American freedom fighters, some of whom campaigned in Britain and Ireland in the 19th century.

Struggles for Liberty takes its name from the phrase ‘struggles in the cause of liberty’, written by Lewis Henry Douglass (eldest son of Frederick 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’; the History of Black Abolition; the US Civil War; African American activists in Scotland; and the Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass Family. It also includes interactive maps and downloadable learning activities for teachers, including activities mapped to the Curriculum for Excellence.

Curator of US and Commonwealth Collections, Dora Petherbridge said:

“Struggles for Liberty brings together library and archive collections to tell the stories of 19th-century African American activists through their own words. Containing extracts of the autobiographies, histories, narratives, speeches, letters and essays of anti-slavery campaigners and social justice activists, we hope this resource gives insight into the repeatedly silenced story of enslaved people.

“To the day he died Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, human rights activist and author, was immovable in his lifelong conviction: ‘nothing of justice, liberty, or humanity can come to us except through tears and blood’. Struggles for Liberty tells of the great individual and collective accomplishments of Frederick Douglass and other Black activists such as Ellen Craft and Moses Roper, who travelled Britain and Ireland in the 19th century fighting white supremacy and campaigning for the abolition of slavery.”

Dr Walter O. Evans, who in 2018 loaned items to the Library for the first ever public display of his Frederick Douglass family collection, said:

“I was very pleased to loan my Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass Family Collection to the National Library of Scotland. I have very fond memories of my times in Edinburgh and was delighted that the first public exhibition of the collection was in Scotland, a country that was so very important to Frederick Douglass. 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. I understand the importance of access to source materials and believe that Struggles for Liberty will serve as an indispensable and easily accessible resource for students, teachers, and for those looking to learn more about the Douglass family and other 19th-century African American freedom fighters.”

Struggles for Liberty features writings authored by prominent African American 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. Evans Collection (now at Yale), and in other US library and archive collections.

The resource was created 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, University of Edinburgh project, Our Bondage and Our Freedom. The resource is available on the National Library of Scotland's website.

Contact Information

Barbara Burke

National Library of Scotland

+44131 623 3738

+447904 791002

Notes to editors

The information, documents and materials provided and featured in this learning resource are the result of an international collaborative UK Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project, ‘Our Bondage and Our Freedom: The Struggles for Liberty of the Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass Family’. It has made possible by participation from the following US and UK organizations and institutions: Walter O. and Linda Evans Foundation, Savannah, Georgia; National Library of Scotland; University of Edinburgh; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, Maryland; The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Anacostia, Washington D.C.; Department of Black Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara; The Leverhulme Trust.

The National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland is a major European research library and one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Scotland and the Scots – an information treasure trove of Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture.

The Library’s collections are of world-class importance. Key areas include rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, music, moving images, official publications, science and technology, and modern and foreign collections.

The Library holds more than 30 million physical items dating back over 1000 years in addition to a growing library of digital material. Every week the Library collects around 5,000 new items. Most of these are received in terms of Legal Deposit legislation, allowing the Library to claim a copy of everything published in the UK and Ireland (everything from children’s books to science journals, election leaflets to magazines and websites). / @natlibscot / facebook