Plaque Celebrating Statesman and Abolitionist Frederick Douglass Unveiled at Liverpool Everyman

164 years since the prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke at Hope Hall (now the site of the Everyman Theatre), Liverpool Everyman has unveiled a plaque on the front of its building, designed by Liverpool born artist Vicki Opomu.

Featuring Douglass and the quote “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist”, it will be a lasting physical reminder of the struggle for freedom and reform, and an inspiration for generations to come.

Considered to be one of the most important African Americans of the 19th century and one of the most significant writers and orators in American history, Frederick Douglass was born a slave and escaped at the age of 20. He championed the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and freedom for Ireland. Trips from the US would bring him to Liverpool, and he spoke at many places in the city to champion his causes. On 19 January 1860 he spoke at Hope Hall, a chapel which in 1964 became the Everyman Theatre.

This link to the Hope Street site was uncovered in 2021, thanks to historian Laurence Westgaph. Together with local theatre company Falling Doors, the theatres worked with Laurence and four local writers to explore the role of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the development of the city. As he explains:

As we did our research, we discovered that Douglass had spoken on the site of what is now the Everyman Theatre. I’m so happy that the theatre will now have a very visible and beautiful lasting reminder of Frederick Douglass’ role not just as an abolitionist but as a social reformer, feminist and orator of great importance.”

Following an open call, artist submissions were reviewed by a panel including Laurence Westgaph (Liverpool Black History Research Group) and Adeyinka Olushonde (Liverpool Black Men’s Group), Dr Teena Cartwright-Terry (Chair of the theatres’ Diversity Action Group), Nancy Msiska (Falling Doors Theatre Company and Young Everyman Playhouse Graduate), Lucy Byrne (Director of dot-art) and Mark Da Vanzo (CEO, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse), with input and support from Bluecoat School and the theatres’ Young Advisors.

In a joint statement, Mark Da Vanzo and Dr Teena Cartwright-Terry said:

“It’s been a privilege to work alongside the panel and Vicki on the project, and this beautiful plaque is only the start. We have just had our first Schools’ Day, exploring Frederick Douglass’ life and his influence on the world, working with students from across the Liverpool City Region. This will become an annual event in January, around the date he spoke at Hope Hall. Our ambition is that we can continue to learn about this incredible man, honour his legacy and empower future generations.”

While there are many commemorations of Douglass in the US and Ireland this is the first dedicated plaque of scale in the UK. Made by the Liverpool based Photocast Products Ltd, a specialist manufacturer of interpretive, decorative, architectural plaques, the plaque has been positioned on the front of the Everyman to the right of the main entrance and was unveiled as part of the theatre’s Open House Day on Saturday 23 March 2024.

Written by Theatrefullstop