Black stardom is a burgeoning field, and the fame of formerly enslaved African Americans in Britain during the mid nineteenth century offers an intriguing case study. In 1846, one British newspaper described the ex-slave turned abolitionist Frederick Douglass as a ‘Negro Hercules’. During his British sojourn, Douglass travelled thousands of miles from Exeter to Edinburgh and contemporary newspapers waxed lyrical about his commanding stage presence and ‘eloquent’ lectures. Douglass created a sensation in Britain, and his celebrity rested on his status as a formerly enslaved individual, his powerful oratory and strong, commanding physical presence, as well as his talent at influencing and exploiting contemporary debates to help the anti-slavery cause. He gave renewed vigour to tense debates over non-fellowship with slave-holding American churches and controversies such as the Evangelical Alliance had international consequences, vividly exposing the influence of American slavery on British society. I will discuss the controversies, complications and consequences of Douglass’ celebrity, which provided a stepping-stone towards fame and success in America.
- Frederick Douglass