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Yale Library To Release Large Collection Of Materials From Frederick Douglass

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The largest known collection of material on the abolitionist Frederick Douglass is set to be made public.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. Yale University has acquired the collection from Dr. Walter Evans - newspaper clippings, manuscripts, letters, much of it contained in nine big scrapbooks put together by Douglass's three sons in the years after the Civil War.

MELISSA BARTON: Very typical of scrapbooks of the 19th century that they're a kind of tracking the notable kind of high points of someone's life through the ephemera and other material that they're interacting with in print.

MARTIN: That's Melissa Barton, a curator at Yale. She says the collection reveals a lot about the Douglass family's engagement with their father's life and legacy. And for her, the legacy of Douglass is especially important in this moment.

BARTON: Frederick Douglass probably should never go out of style. Obviously, this year, with the way that Black Lives Matter is having this moment, Douglass has been maybe more on a lot of people's minds. We recognize him - have long recognized him - as being a deservedly important, celebrated American figure.

GREENE: The university is planning to make this collection digital, so people can learn more online about the life of Frederick Douglass. That was important to the man who is handing over these artifacts.

WALTER EVANS: Scholars, researchers, students and the world should have access to it.

MARTIN: That's Dr. Evans, who acquired Douglass's papers over 30 years ago and added a few items over the years. He also agrees people have taken a greater interest in Douglass recently.

EVANS: You can't just say he was an editor or just an abolitionist or just a politician because he was just so much more than that.

MARTIN: Evans thinks Douglass sets an example for the nation.

EVANS: His legacy is that this country was built on a certain ideal which it has never lived up to. And I think what you'll find in this collection of material is that he had hope. He had hope for the country.

GREENE: For years now, researchers interested in Douglass have traveled to the house of Walter Evans and sat at his dining room table to read through this collection. But accessing this extraordinary private material is about to get a whole lot easier. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.