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Detroit 1859: The Frederick Douglass-John Brown Meeting

by Verdis L. Robinson

By the late 1850s, the United States’ policies regarding the enslaved were clear and its impacts more publicly apparent. With the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision, the Abolitionist Movement was at a crossroads and in crisis. On March 12, 1859, John Brown was visiting Detroit trying to gain support for a major potential solution to end slavery. Frederick Douglass was also in the city at that time and both were invited to a meeting, hosted by local black abolitionist Rev. William Webb. The news got around, and other leading Black abolitionists from Michigan and Canada joined them for an evening of fellowship, dialogue, and deliberation. The meeting’s objective was not simple but focused: to create a new viable plan, a pathway forward to end slavery- one that the leaders present could agree upon and realistically put into action. Through a series of deliberative sessions, can the abolitionists gathered in Detroit come to a consensus? Will they meet the objective of the meeting? Or will disunity impede the progress of the Abolitionist Movement? In true deliberative fashion, all voices will be heard.


Verdis L. Robinson

Verdis L. Robinson (he/him) is an associate of the Kettering Foundation with a focus on the democratic practices in community colleges. He has previously served as Campus Compact’s director for community college engagement and the national director for The Democracy Commitment. Prior to his national leadership, Verdis served as a tenured professor of history and African American studies at Monroe Community College where he employed RTTP in all of his history survey courses. Verdis has also served as fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Faculty Seminar on Citizenship and the American and Global Polity, and a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Faculty Seminar on Rethinking Black Freedom Studies: The Jim Crow North and West.

Robinson holds a B.M. in Voice Performance from Boston University, a B.S. cum laude and M.A. in History from SUNY College at Brockport, and an M.A. in African-American Studies from SUNY University at Buffalo. He is currently the Lenora Montgomery Scholar at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.

Reacting and Related Titles

  • Bacon's Rebellion
  • "Lukango!" Stono Rebellion of 1739
  • Amazing Grace: British Abolition of Slavery, 1833


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