Scholars and independent researchers of Frederick Douglass have all most likely come across a reference or two in their reading of the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, in which Douglass independently participated at least twice. During his second reading with the group, in late 1877 Douglass performed the role of “Shylock” in The Merchant of Venice.
In an unfinished letter dated December 21, 1877 to “My dear Friend” Douglass writes, “I spoke to a very [illegible] and elegant audience at Mt. Pleasant Wednesday night, and read with the Uniontown Shakespeare Club last night.
The play was the Merchant of Venice and my part [was] Shylock. This is my second meeting with the Club. I find it very pleasant and entertaining and I have no one at my home to go with me and I often fancy that I am losing one half of the happiness of such occasions because in all such matters I am alone.”
For anyone who has taken a tour of Cedar Hill and paid close attention they have most likely seen (or heard a Ranger point it out) the large print of Othello and Desdemona, from Shakspeare’s Othello, prominently displayed just above the mantle in the living room.
Tireless advocate of the cause and public intellectual C.R. Gibbs knows from personal experience Douglass’ love of Shakespeare. Decades ago Gibbs had the unique pleasure of reading from Douglass’ personal Shakespeare collection.
[ED Note: In speaking with friends in Anacostia I have mentioned this club and Douglass’ involvement with it. The near uniform response is, “We need to start the club up again!” Huh, man.]