Law school symposium celebrates 'Detroit's Abolitionist Moment'

The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law next month will host “Detroit’s Abolitionist Moment: 160 Years of Fighting for Justice,” a symposium celebrating the historic March 12, 1859 meeting of famous abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown at the home of William Webb in Detroit.

The event will take place Tuesday, March 12, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Detroit Public Library’s Clara Stanton Jones Friends Auditorium at 5201 Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

The event is open to the public and registration is requested at

The symposium honors the 160-year anniversary of the Douglass and Brown meeting by exploring the context in terms of antislavery, black activism and the Underground Railroad in Detroit; the setting of the meeting at William Webb’s house; the events that brought John Brown to Detroit; and the intellectual anti-slavery approaches of Douglass and Brown.

John Brown traveled to Detroit with 11 former enslaved people that were seeking freedom in Canada.

The audience will learn about the experience of freedom seekers who crossed the border into Canada.

Descendants of the 1859 meeting participants, including a descendant of a former enslaved person who traveled to Detroit with John Brown, are among the presenters.

The symposium features a keynote address by David S. Reynolds, distinguished professor of English and U. S. History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Reynolds is the author of “John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights.”

Additional speakers include:

• Roy E. Finkenbine, professor of History, department co-chair, director of the Black Abolitionist Archive at University of Detroit Mercy
• Deanda Johnson, regional manager, Network to Freedom, National Park Service
• Leslie Williams, Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society
• Alex Zamalin, assistant professor of Political Science, director of the African-American Studies Program at University of Detroit Mercy
• Kimberly Simmons, president and executive director of Detroit River Project
• Darryl Hogan, descendant of a freedom seeker that arrived with John Brown in Detroit in 1859
• Moderator: Nick Schroeck, associate professor, director of Clinical Programs at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

“On the 160th anniversary of this important meeting in Detroit, we are excited to learn about the historical context and experience of those who were present,” said Detroit Mercy Law Dean Phyllis L. Crocker. “Remembering the past and working for others in the continued struggle for social justice is an important part of our law school’s mission.”


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