Don Mullan is the co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Ireland Project.
In 2015 Mullan, along with Professor Christine Kinealy, was interviewed by Dr. William (Smitty) Smith for a US public television series: An American Story: Race Amity and the Other Tradition.
Dr Smith had learned of Mullan’s work to highlight the connection between Frederick Douglass – the man whom many African Americans consider the father of the US Civil Rights Movement – and the ‘Irish Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell.
Mullan had first come across Frederick Douglass while developing the Great ‘Famine’ Project (1984-1996) and included reference to Douglass’s 1845 visit to Ireland in his presentation: ‘Ireland: 5000 Year in 20 Minutes’ which he co-produced with artist Robert Ballagh in 1996.
Following the publication of his memoir ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – an American Slave’ in 1845, Douglass was encouraged by the abolitionist movement to leave the USA for his safety. He travelled to Ireland and Britain for two years, during which he promoted his book and the cause of ending slavery in America.
Douglass was aware of Daniel O’Connell and had the opportunity to encounter him on one occasion in 1845 at Conciliation Hall, Dublin. While the encounter was cordial and O’Connell invited Douglass to address the crowd, there is no evidence that both men ever met again. However, the encounter was to considerably alter the trajectory of Douglass’s future commitment.
In 2011, in advance of the visit to Ireland of the USA’s first African-American President, Barack Obama, Mullan re-published the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – an American Slave to mark the historic occasion, in both softback and as a limited edition hardback. The foreword to this edition was written by the President of Ireland, Her Excellency, Mary McAleese, with an epilogue by the Chief Executive of Concern Worldwide, Tom Arnold.
Mullan’s introduction charts key correspondence between Douglass and the head of the American Abolitionist Movement, William Lloyd Garrison, following his encounter with O’Connell. Mullan demonstrates how Douglass’s thinking was influenced by O’Connell’s address that fateful evening. Mullan argues that the greatest gift Ireland gave to Douglass wasn’t simply welcoming him as an equal human being, but the fact that having arrived as a single issue campaigner, Douglass departed a determined internationalist. For the rest of his life, Douglass fought, not just for the ending of slavery in America, but, like O’Connell and Ireland, for the oppressed worldwide.
On 13 June 2015, the National Centre for Race Amity and the Museum of African American History, Boston, invited Don Mullan to give a lecture entitled: “Following the North Star: the impact of Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell on Liberation”. The lecture was delivered from a podium from where Frederick Douglass had also address a Bostonian gathering during his lifetime. It was, for Mullan, a singular honor. Later in 2015, in recognition of his work in combatting racism throughout the world, the National Centre for Race Amity awarded Mullan the Race Amity Medal of Honor, the first non-American to receive the Award. At the award ceremony in Boston, Irish Historian, Dr Christine Kinealy, was asked to present Mullan to the predominantly African-American audience.
Dr. Smith and the National Center for Race Amity later invited Mullan and Hope Initiatives International to partner in an ambitious project with the working title: ‘Two Men Meet Project’. It is a multi-disciplined race amity project inspired also by the unique relationship between Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell. The Two Men Meet Project aims, in four key areas, to build on the transformative hope with which a young Frederick Douglass left Ireland in 1846, greatly inspired by Daniel O’Connell. The Project aims to:
- Renew the fight for Civil and Human Rights at a time of growing neo-nationalism;
- Emphasize our common humanity through stories of race amity and ‘The Other Tradition’, especially through the story of the O’Connell and Douglass encounter in Ireland;
- To make the future wellbeing and recovery of Haiti a special cause, in keeping with Frederick Douglass’s love and respect for the Haitian people, in particular, the founder of the 1st Black Republic, Toussaint Louverture.
- To gather the elements of the project around a major piece of public art, entitled ‘Two Men Meet’, depicting the encounter of Frederick Douglass with Daniel O’Connell in Dublin in 1845, for the cities of Boston and Dublin. When accomplished, the monument will, simultaneously, be the first monument depicting Frederick Douglass in Europe, and Daniel O’Connell in the Americas.