Alfred State celebrates Douglass Day


“Transcribe-a-thons” are held in honor of Fredrick Douglass every Valentine’s Day

Alfred State students transcribe works by Mary Ann Shadd Cary in the Hinkle Library during the college’s Frederick Douglass day celebration.

Members of the Alfred State community came together in the Hinkle Library to celebrate Douglass Day. Each year, as a celebration of Frederick Douglass’ birthday, people across the world gather to help create new and free available resources for learning about Black history.

Director of Global Engagement and Civic Wellbeing Cyan Corwine and Dr. Travis Matteson, an Assistant Professor in the English and Humanities Department combined to bring this event to the Alfred campus. Matteson has had students take part in this event the past three years and worked with Corwine to expand the program to more of the college community.

Corwine was excited to be part of the event. “The purpose of this event is to honor Frederick Douglass’ birthday through the celebration and elevation of black history; engaging with rich stories, contributions, and voices from the past to ensure they are more widely accessible in our future. So much care has been put into creating a meaningful engagement opportunity by the Douglass Day organizers and their efforts have resulted in an incredible crowdsourced initiative that broadens perspectives and invites an international community to explore and digitally preserve important narratives.”

Douglass, a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman, never knew his birthdate and chose to celebrate his birthday on Feb. 14. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings.

To celebrate Douglass, transcribe-a-thons are held in his honor every Valentine’s Day. Students from across the world logged in and transcribed papers from Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was one of the earliest Black women to edit a newspaper, serve as a Civil War recruiter, and attend law school. In previous Douglass Day’s work from Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell have been transcribed.

Savannah Barros (Interior Design) thought it was interesting to be part of such a large event. “I was transcribing an article about different students that got awards, so I had to find the names of the students. It is cool knowing that this is for something so big.”

Vonnie Branch (Digital Animation and Design) had a similar experience. “I was transcribing an article that was talking about emancipating slaves and how they have their own freedom now. Finding out how Black people felt about it immediately after being freed from slavery. It is cool to get perspective from the past.” 

The event not only featured a chance for students, faculty, and staff to participate in the transcribe-a-thon but also included cakes made by culinary arts baking students that were part of the 3rd Annual Douglass Day Bake Off. Representatives from the League of Women Voters were also present.

In just three hours during the live event, 13,165 pages of Mary Ann Shadd Cary archives were transcribed. They are now digitally searchable, shareable, and made accessible to all.

Corwine added, “I hope that our students come across works, quotes, and moments that are eye-opening and inspiring. I hope they feel inspired by this and have curiosity beyond what happens here.”

For more information on Douglass Day visit:

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