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Douglass Day 2024 promotional image of Douglass, with a dusty rose background.

An Outpouring of Love for Douglass Day 2024

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Today’s guest post is from Lauren Algee, a Senior Digital Collections Specialist in the Digital Content Management Section and a By the People community manager.**

Douglass Day 2024 marked the busiest day in the history of By the People, the Library of Congress’s crowdsourced transcription program. The transcribe-a-thon for the Frederick Douglass Papers was groundbreaking in multiple ways and marked the beginning of deeper collaboration between By the People and the Center for Black Digital Research at The Pennsylvania State University.

Every year on February 14, Frederick Douglass’s chosen birthday, the Center for Black Digital Research organizes a Douglass Day, celebration of, and day of service to, Black digital history. Since 2017, volunteers around the world have come together to transcribe and learn about an online collection of Black history and culture – the 2021 Douglass Day project was the Mary Church Terrell Papers at the Library of Congress. That day was formerly the biggest for By the People contribution… until now!

The 2024 Douglass Day service project focused on Douglass himself for the first time ever – specifically correspondence from the Frederick Douglass Papers. Frederick Douglass was one of the most influential activists, orators, and writers in history. His correspondence consists of letters received by Douglass (which documents his life as a public figure), his work as a writer and editor, and his family. By transcribing his letters in the “Yours truly, Frederick Douglass” campaign, volunteers can go behind the scenes of Douglass’s public and private life.

WASHINGTON, D. C., November 3, 1894 DEAR SIR: I take the liberty of addressing you now for the reason that the leaders of our people in your city have assured me of the valuable services you have heretofore rendered our race. You have in your community men of our race who are watchful of our interests, and they have advised the Central Organization here of the fact that George E. White is a candiddte for congressman. They also apprised us that he is a bitter foe to our race and kind. They tell us that as alderman in your city council and as a member of the State Senate he has not befriended us in the manner he should have after having received our support. That he has used our people merely to his personal advantage and has never done anything for them in return. The Central Afro-American League has informed us that in dealing with his employees of our kind he is tryannical, grinding, and unfair, that he is no friend of the colored race. The time is fast approaching when wrong must give way to right, and the race so long oppressed must receive a measure of simple justice so long withheld. No other influence is as powerful to bring about this good as the Afro-American himself. In the North, with the ballot in his hand he is the peer of any man. Men, who on every other day in the year deride you and oppress you and sneer at you, on election day shake you by the hand and ask you to vote for them. Election day is an opportunity for the colored man to assert his independence and right, and rebuke the man who every other day is unfriendly to him and his interests. On the other hand there is a candidate on the democratic ticket, Colonel Edward T. Noonan, whose father was killed under General Sherman in the war for the freedom of our people, and whose career has been friendly to the colored race. And from a personal knowledge of Edward T. Noonan, I am urged to appeal to you to cast aside all personal feeling on election day and vote for Edward T. Noonan for Congress in your district. I am fast approaching the sunset of life with the satisfaction that day by day and year by year the colored race is asserting its independence and becoming an eqhal in the species of mankind. Yours Truly, Fred Douglass
A November 3, 1894 letter by Frederick Douglass to an unknown recipient, Frederick Douglass Papers, Manuscript Division. His signature on this page served as the inspiration for the transcription campaign title.

The Douglass transcription campaign launched on the morning of February 14, 2024. Over 8,500 people registered to participate in Douglass Day at 164 locations around the world. Local organizers hosted transcribe-a-thons at schools, libraries, and other community centers and tuned into a virtual event that included historical context, music, and, of course, birthday cake! At the close of the day, the By the People website had 123,000 page views and volunteers had started transcription for 7,500 pages, of which 1,500+ were also reviewed and completed. Transcription and volunteer review will continue until all 9,000+ pages are finalized!

Chart showing the number of times volunteers clicked Save or Submit each day from January 1 to February 18, 2024. Activity in different campaigns is color coded, with Douglass Day appearing as a giant purple spike in the data on February 14.
Chart showing the number of times volunteers clicked ‘Save’ or ‘Submit’ each day from January 1 to February 18, 2024. Activity in different campaigns is color coded, with Douglass Day appearing as a giant purple spike in the data on February 14.

The Frederick Douglass transcription campaign also prompted new opportunities for data sharing with the long-running Douglass Papers Project (DPP), which has endeavored since the 1970s to publish and annotate all of Douglass’s writings. By the People will incorporate existing DPP transcriptions of Douglass correspondence into and the Douglass Papers Project will utilize volunteer transcriptions as the basis of their ongoing scholarly work on his correspondence.

And the By the People team is thrilled to announce that the success of Douglass Day 2024 is only the beginning! The Center for Black Digital Research and By the People recently signed a three-year agreement to both continue and deepen our collaboration on future Douglass Days to amplify the reach and audience of both organizations and create additional opportunities to share complementary knowledge and skills in outreach and public history.

**Featured title image above is courtesy of Douglass Day under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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