Suffolk poet and public speaker Nathan Richardson said an invisible lightbulb unexpectedly blinked on-and-off in his mind, after the Michigan Banner newspaper asked him to bring his Frederick Douglass tour to Michigan.
Richardson has a habit of responding to unexpected Aha moments. And that is why he packed up several white wigs, his Frederick Douglass costumes, and re-enacted Douglass in Michigan. While Richardson has performed as Frederick Douglass at libraries and public schools in Virginia and surrounding states for several years, Michigan was uncharted territory. Nevertheless, Richardson recently took a bow before audiences in Michigan, thanks to the invitation he received from the Michigan Banner in Saginaw.
“Since the North Star Newspaper is a huge part of Douglass’ legacy, I decided to write a program that I could also offer to other Black newspapers across the country,” Richardson explained in a recent email. “The tour is funded by the newspapers who book the lecture. Since some Black newspapers are struggling financially, we are reaching out to the National Newspaper Publishers Association in hopes they will subsidize the tour for those newspapers who cannot afford it.”
Try to envision it. When Richardson puts on a wig and colonial attire, he becomes Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist. Richardson performed to overflow crowds during the Obama era. These days, he is speaking in the Trump era. In other words, Richardson recently traveled to Michigan and spoke to the descendants of those who used to pay a few pennies for Douglass’ anti-slavery newspaper. This means Richardson is speaking today to those have turned the page. But when he steps on stage and performs for the great-great grandchildren of people who faithfully bought and read the North Star, which Frederick Douglass published from December 1847 until June 1851. Well, get over it. Move on. History moves forward, not backwards.
Richardson said of his recent performance in Michigan, “Newspapers are excited about the State of the Black Press lecture. It offers their employees, readers and advertisers a historical perspective on the importance of the Black Press in keeping our community informed.”
Richardson is a retired military veteran, who has portrayed Frederick Douglass in schools throughout Hampton Roads for many years. He is a published poet. He is an educator. He is active in his community. To him, the sky is the limit when it comes to the increasingly popular Black Press tour.
“We also hope to offer the program to universities with journalism majors,” Richardson said. “In an age where counter propaganda has labeled the media as ‘fake news’ we must go back to our roots to offer our people news and information they can trust.”
Describing the growing demand for his Black Press tour, Richardson reflected on the earnest example Douglass set centuries ago. Douglass urged people to move past hate. That is what Richardson tries to accomplish on the road. During a routine question and answer period which he offers at each performance on the Black Press tour, people raise lengthy concerns. Whether it is the recent controversy regarding the removal of Civil War monuments, or people asking him what Frederick Douglass would do about the removal of the existing monuments, Richardson said he tries to focus on history.
Most of all, he tries to focus on the shadow and the substance that racial hubris often poses. To make his point, Richardson pointed to the 1865 speech Douglass made in Maryland. .”Let no part of slavery remain above ground now that the monster is dead,” Richardson said in a recent email, quoting Douglass’ 1865 speech in Maryland. “Let the shadow of the substance go down together and let them sleep forever in a common grave. The substance is the social constructs that perpetuate inequality. Both must be addressed.”
Packing up his white wigs and colonial costumes in Michigan, Richardson headed back to Suffolk.
By Rosaland Tyler