Library Staff Member Discovers Frederick Douglass Newspaper Issue

April 4, 2024

During the preparations for the renovation of Lavery Library, Michelle Price, special collections librarian, was organizing items for storage. Seeking assistance, she enlisted the help of Shannon Feeley, circulation supervisor, to sift through boxes containing regional newspapers. Amidst this sorting process, Feeley came upon a copy of the New National Era, a notable newspaper associated with Frederick Douglass.

Shannon Feeley poses with the issue of New National Era.

According to the Library of Congress, the New National Era newspaper was a weekly publication in Washington D.C. and ran from 1870 until 1874. There were two individuals responsible for this publication, Frederick Douglass and J. Sella Martin, both former slaves who had become notable activists regarding anti-slavery and civil rights. Although Douglass is more widely recognized, it was Martin who initially held the responsibility for overseeing the formerly known as National Era publication and actively sought out Douglass for his expertise. Douglass accepted the role of "corresponding editor," but subsequently, after nine months, he assumed ownership of the publication from Martin. Following the acquisition, Douglass took on the dual role of editor and publisher and rebranded the publication as the New National Era.

The newly discovered issue of the New National Era.
Before relocating to Washington and acquiring the paper, Douglass resided in Rochester, New York, where he established several newspapers including The North Star, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, and Douglass’ Monthly. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Douglass played a pivotal role as an advocate for civil rights and women’s rights within the Rochester community. Notably, he participated in the historic Women’s Suffrage Movement, attending the second day of the inaugural meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848, later known as the Seneca Falls Convention. Originally an exclusively gathering for women, the event welcomed male participants on its second day, including Douglass. His involvement in various social causes solidified his standing as a prominent figure in the Rochester community, where he resided with his family from 1847 until 1872, as cited by the National Archives.

The New National Era issue holds considerable significance for Lavery Library as it contributes to the enrichment of the University’s Frederick Douglass collection and facilitates comparative analyses across various editions and publications bearing his name. Since its finding, the New National Era issue has been appropriately integrated alongside the existing collection of papers from that periodical. The library plans to digitize the issue, allowing it to serve as a valuable research asset for scholars who study Douglass. To explore other issues of the New National Era and additional newspapers published by Douglas held in the Special Collections, visit Lavery Library’s Frederick Douglas Collection.