Fri. May 17th, 2024

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In commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of The Frederick Douglass Institute, West Chester University invited Robert Levine, author and distinguished professor at University of Maryland, to deliver his keynote speech titled “Impeachment: Frederick Douglass and Andrew Johnson After the Civil War.” 

President Fiorentino introduced the event by stating the achievements of The Frederick Douglass Institute, which was started over 25 years ago by Doctor C. James Trotman, who was in attendance at the event. 

The institute’s mission is to “maintain the legacy of Frederick Douglass before the campus community, local community, region and the nation through the highest quality of academic programming that promotes excellence in scholarship, teaching and institutional advancement.”

Current literature professor, Doctor Christain Awuyah, now runs the institute. As an introduction the event, Awuyah stated, “Our goal is to work with underserved, underrepresented student populations — students who are just about to enter university — to widen that breach between high school and university and we have troops of volunteers, faculty, administrators and students who work relentlessly for long extended hours in that.” 

After WCU established our Institute, all of the remaining 13 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) established a Frederick Douglass Institute as well. Fiorentino stated, “the pride that comes with your university creating such a large ripple effect is profound. It is something I tell people about as often as I can.” 

Fiorentino went on to say that over 80 student scholars have completed the fellowship with the institute and several have gone on to teach including Doctor Israel Sanz-Sánchez, who is now a professor of Spanish at WCU. 

Levine gave his keynote speech as part of the 25th anniversary celebration but also as a part of the Dr. Clifford E. DeBaptiste Frederick Douglass Institute Lecture series. DeBaptiste was the first Black mayor of West Chester Borough and also a recognized champion of education. 

In the speech, Levine summarized his book “The Failed Promise: Frederick Douglass, Reconstruction and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson,” and explained the nuanced and complicated relationship between Douglass and Johnson after the Civil War. He explained Johnson’s history of calling himself the “Moses” of the Black community and eventually his impeachment in relation to the actions and accounts of Frederick Douglass and other Black activists at the time. 

Following his keynote speech, Levine held a book signing from 2-3pm and a more informal conversation from 3–4 p.m. At the conclusion of his keynote speech he noted that Douglass’ hope in the face of brutality against Black bodies inspired him to continue his research and to write his book. 

He stated, “Douglass may have lamented the failed promise of reconstruction, but in The Declaration of Independence and other founding documents, he continued to see promise in the United States for the achievement someday of a multiracial democracy. He dreamed of your republic becoming our republic. His words and deeds, as the FDI knows as well, continue to inspire.”

Students interested in getting involved in the FDI can check out the Summer Scholars Program and the FDI Book Award on their page at 

Emma Hogan is a second-year English major.

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