Our Founding Director
A J Aiséirithe
The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Community grew out of the vision of A J Aiséirithe. A J earned her doctorate in History from the University of Chicago in 2007. Her research centers on abolition and civil rights in the Northern U.S. during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
A J then served on a project to digitize Lincoln manuscripts at the Library of Congress during the Lincoln Bicentennial and witnessed firsthand how the energy mobilized around that milestone strengthened the material legacy of a historical figure even so already iconic as the sixteenth president, while enlarging his place in the public imagination.
Next, A J organized a three-day public humanities festival at Harvard University in 2011 to mark the bicentennial of the abolitionist and Harvard alumnus Wendell Phillips. That project featured a scholarly symposium, a walking tour, a workshop for K-12 teachers on developing curricula on the history of abolitionism in Boston, an exhibit of manuscripts and artifacts, and a public discussion conceived, organized, and led by local activist youth of color about what the past has to teach the present. A volume of essays featuring new scholarship, titled Wendell Phillips, Social Justice and the Power of the Past, which A J co-edited, was published in 2016 by Louisiana State University Press. The Phillips bicentennial celebration, which began as a scholarly symposium, reached out to local partners (museums, historic sites, the National Park Service) as well as community organizations and a diverse public interested in history. They all made sure the scholars understood that Phillips and the history of abolitionism belong not just to scholars but to everyone. Their participation offered fresh perspectives to the scholars, and the work we all did together was made much better, stronger, more interesting, and more fun as a result. That experience, above all, informs A J’s approach to the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Community.
For as you probably know, Douglass has long had diverse and active constituencies looking out for his legacy. The main purpose of the Bicentennial Community is to leverage the internet, social media, and all manner of networks to boost the power and reach of all Douglass interests—so long as they are nonprofit and non-partisan—and connect them with one another to build an enduring Douglass organization that will preserve and extend his legacy long after the bicentennial.