In the late 1860s—at a moment of great hope for the promise of equality under the law—the famed orator and once-enslaved abolitionist Frederick Douglass took his “Our Composite Nation” speech on the road to argue for a plural American democracy. The mission of this new nation, he declared, was to provide the world “a composite, perfect illustration of the unity of the human family.” For what was the U.S., he said, but “the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world?” Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by New York Historical Scholar Trustee David Blight, this special installation features artifacts, images, and a theatrical design that bring Douglass’s compelling speech to life and explores his vision of freedom, citizenship, and equal rights that remains urgently relevant today, as a hopeful plea for America to live up to its founding ideals. Curated by Marci Reaven, vice president of history exhibits, Lily Wong, associate curator, and Dominique Jean-Louis, associate curator
Our Composite Nation has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.