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Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass. George Francis Schreiber, 1870

Primary Sources, Transcriptions, and Douglass Day Celebrations

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Our thanks to educator Denise Burgher for this guest post focusing on Douglass Day and the ways in which teachers can use transcriptions to help engage students with primary sources. You can learn more about Douglass Day, an annual celebration of Frederick Douglass that is observed each February 14th, from the Library’s blogs Unfolding History and The Signal.

What is your background, and how did you get involved in Douglass Day?

I am a senior team leader with the Colored Conventions Project at the University of Delaware, where I lead the Curriculum Team and the Community Engagement team. Prior to beginning graduate school as a Colored Conventions Project Fellow, I worked for five years in South Los Angeles as an English/Language Arts (ELA) teacher. Mary Church Terrell began the holiday after Frederick Douglass’s death in 1895, and when Dr. Jim Casey, the founder of, suggested resurrecting the holiday in Washington, DC, I was intrigued by Terrell’s focus on school children.

It was important to combine as many as possible of the original elements of the holiday with the contemporary goals of Douglass Day. The challenge lay in identifying and creating authentic ways for people across generations to participate in the annual celebrations. We wanted a wider audience than college students and already committed history enthusiasts to enjoy Douglass Day. I imagined entire families, from the youngest child to grandparents, people at every level of education and ability logging on and learning and sharing and having fun. The program and the curriculum are two places where the emphasis on cross generational appeal is key.

What would you like teachers to know about Douglass Day and what participating in the Day can bring to classrooms?

The Douglass Day curriculum is designed for teachers to choose what will work best for their classrooms. Have time for one lesson plan? You will find it. Have time for a semester long unit plan? You will find it. Want ideas and or resources to create your own classroom materials? The curriculum will work for you. The curriculum includes extensions for advanced students, summative and formative assignments, vocabulary lists, video clips, links to Library of Congress transcription resources, and more. Because it is designed for implementation in classrooms from kindergarten to university, it is flexible and adaptable. The entire curriculum is organized around a central essential idea or question, Common Core standards with all resources included or hyperlinked. The curriculum is a living document, and we invite feedback and ideas from teachers familiar with the curriculum so that we can foster a community of educators who are interested in this work.

Letter from Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison 9/29/1845
Letter from Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison September 29, 1845

What can working with Library of Congress primary sources, like the ones in this transcription project, do for students?

Participating in Douglass Day allows teachers and students to work directly with primary documents, which makes students knowledge creators versus information consumers. The Library of Congress’s primary source transcription projects offer a wealth of resources to teachers to equip their students with critical thinking skills. Instead of turning to secondary sources (textbooks, videos, articles and lectures), students are offered the support to analyze, consider, question, and think through what these documents meant at the time they were created and now. Working with a transcription project, students become content creators instead of relying on others to tell them what to think, while making the this content available and accessible for generations to come.

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