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Abo­li­tionist orator Fred­erick Dou­glass spoke at Hillsdale College almost exactly 150 years ago, as the Civil War raged. His visit has become a cher­ished part of the college’s legacy.

But Dou­glass visited Hillsdale a second time, on Sept. 27, 1888. Retired history pro­fessor Arlan Gilbert, who wrote several books on Hillsdale College’s past, said he had not heard of this second visit until now.

“It’s another piece of evi­dence that Hillsdale was an abo­li­tionist college,” Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn said. “Hillsdale is an anti-slavery college on both Christian and political levels.”

Dou­glass (1818 – 1895) was born into slavery, escaped to freedom, and become a champion of equal rights for black Amer­icans. He wrote several ver­sions of his auto­bi­og­raphy, including “Nar­rative of the Life of Fred­erick Dou­glass, an American Slave.”

The Hillsdale College Herald, the Collegian’s pre­de­cessor, pub­lished the fol­lowing notice about the 1888 visit: “Fred­erick Dou­glass, the noted colored orator, will deliver a Repub­lican address at the rink this afternoon.”

As part of Repub­lican pres­i­dential can­didate Ben­jamin Harrison’s cam­paign, Dou­glass spoke at the Hillsdale roller skating rink, where city and college groups hosted large events.

After the event, the Hillsdale Standard, a city news­paper, reported that the crowd was so large that “hun­dreds were turned away.” A “special train” from Jonesville and Allen brought 400 attendees.

Dou­glass first visited the college on an invi­tation to lecture from the Ladies Lit­erary Union, one of Hillsdale’s five lit­erary soci­eties. Before and during the Civil War, at least 10 other abo­li­tionists spoke at the college.

“We were strongly abo­li­tionist,” Gilbert said.

On Jan. 21, 1863, Dou­glass gave a lecture in the college chapel titled, “Popular Error and Unpopular Truth.”

Though no tran­script of either Dou­glass speech sur­vives, a report on a speech entitled “Truth and Error” was printed in the Feb­ruary 1863 edition of Dou­glass’ Monthly, one of the abolitionist’s many pub­li­ca­tions. College archivist Linda Moore and Gilbert believe the speech described in the doc­ument  is similar to his first speech at Hillsdale College.

“We can’t be sure that those are the exact words,” Gilbert said. “But he was on a five-town speaking tour. One of those five towns was Hillsdale.”

A report pub­lished in the Chicago Tribune describes Dou­glass as saying that the Civil War was the logical sequence fol­lowing the wrong of human slavery.

“We had attempted to con­travene the laws of God by trans­forming men into beasts of burden,” the report reads.

Two days after Dou­glass spoke, the Ladies Lit­erary Union reported that it sold $100.55 in tickets to the event.

In 2004, the college pur­chased a pho­to­graph taken of the abo­li­tionist during his first Hillsdale visit (pho­to­graph on A1).

“The one we own is the only sur­viving original print,” Arnn said. “It’s very rare.”

The pho­to­graph was from a series of 62 “Carte de Visites” pro­duced from his visit. “CDVs,” as they are called, were pho­tographs mounted on paper cards designed to be traded among friends and vis­itors, a hobby that grew popular around the time of the Civil War.

Though the college lost a bidding war for the card on eBay, Arnn nego­tiated a deal with the new owner to pur­chase the card for $5,000.

“I said in an email — this is para­phrased — ‘Fred­erick Dou­glass is the most honored guest in all of our history. The pho­to­graph belongs here. I will buy it from you at a con­sid­erable profit,’” Arnn said.

The card is archived in the fire­proof vault in Central Hall.

Someday soon, a statue of Dou­glass will be erected as part of the “Liberty Walk,” Arnn said. Cur­rently, the Arnns and other unnamed donors have donated money for the statue.

“We don’t know when. We’re working toward that,” Arnn said. “It won’t be very long.”

A Dou­glass statue has been dis­cussed since the beginning of the “Liberty Walk” in 2002.