The life of Frederick Douglass is well worth celebrating - Readers' Letters

I was delighted to see that the life of freed slave, Frederick Douglass, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery in 19th century Scotland, will be celebrated in a new film at the Edinburgh Art Festival (Scotsman, 29 July).

Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour is a ten-screen film installation offering a poetic meditation on the life and times of Frederick Douglass


Detail: The exhibition is housed across three galleries. Two featuring an expansive photographic exhibition which includes Julien’s tin-types and mise-en-scène photographs. The film is presented across ten screens evoking the style of a 19th century salon hang (pictured).

Isaac Julien, Sorcha Carey, Edinburgh Art Festival Director
Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour is a ten-screen film installation offering a poetic meditation on the life and times of Frederick Douglass Detail: The exhibition is housed across three galleries. Two featuring an expansive photographic exhibition which includes Julien’s tin-types and mise-en-scène photographs. The film is presented across ten screens evoking the style of a 19th century salon hang (pictured). Isaac Julien, Sorcha Carey, Edinburgh Art Festival Director

The ideas of Douglass – an escaped slave, orator, writer and statesman – were pivotal in the United States before, during and after the American Civil War. He is now widely regarded as one of the most important figures in efforts to end slavery in America

Douglass indeed spent time in Edinburgh, where a plaque now marks where he once lived at Gilmore Place while acting as Scotland’s anti-slavery agent.

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He arrived in Scotland in 1846, eight years after escaping the brutal regime of his owner on a plantation in Maryland and found a city where he felt “no distinction” to those of a “paler hue” and where “no one seemed alarmed to his presence”.

Douglass was sent to Great Britain and Ireland on a speaking tour organised by the American-Anti-Slavery Society, to take advantage of strong anti-slavery sentiment at a time when the US lagged in efforts to wholly outlaw the trade. On his tour Douglass spoke in towns and cities such as Arbroath, Paisley, Kelso and Glasgow, and demand to see his speeches was so high that tickets had to be issued.

Douglass’s campaign was ramped up to a new level when he clashed with the Free Church of Scotland and was a key supporter of the “send back the money campaign”. This came after it emerged Free Church representatives had travelled to the American South in 1845 on a fundraising mission, with some slave-owners proving particularly supportive.

It is fantastic to see Frederick Douglass continuing to get the credit he deserves for his crucial role in tackling slavery.

Alex Orr, Edinburgh

Trivia quiz

I write in response to Hamish McKenzie’s “Brains of Britain” letter (July 21) concerning the lack of knowldedge about Scotland during a recent episode of University Challenge. My delay in responding is due to carrying out research amongst work colleagues.

My own research consisted of asking 15 colleagues the following Scottish trivia: How many bridges cross the Forth? Who was the father/founder of the National Parks in America? What is the nearest town/city to the battlefield of Culloden? Where would you find Mons Meg? No one got all four correct, one person got three correct, four people got two correct, four people got one correct and six people failed to get any correct.

All colleagues currently work and reside in Scotland. They never divulged their political preferences. Their educational backgrounds ranged from high school to university graduates. Perhaps Mr McKenzie should have taken the time to consider if the questions raised on University Challenge would have been answered any better by a team from Cardiff or Edinburgh University. Did he consider whether all participants were actually born in England before he castigated them for their lack of knowledge? Would he have been so knowledgeable about any of the other nations comprising the UK?

I would like to present Mr McKenzie with my own award for the most obscure and frankly mind-blowing reason for him advocating Scottish Independence.

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I applaud the students taking part in the programme for their vast array of knowledge and may they turn out to be citizens of the world and utilise their education for the benefit of all mankind.

Tessa W Johnstone, Dechmont, West Lothian

Intelligence test

I was amused to read that the First Minister expected a “certain level of intelligence” in her subjects in order to interpret her Delphic predictions on vaccination (Scotsman, 28 July). Is this the same First Minister who has presided over the significant decline in literacy and numeracy in Scotland during her tenure?

WG Tennant, Edinburgh

Family values

I have lived for most of the past 80 years on farms in Fife and Angus. During that time I have:

– Sledged over buried field fences in the snow of 1947;

– Been blown off my bike on the way home from a school rugby match abandoned because the ball kept being blown away in the storm of 31 January 1953 that sank the Stranraer-Larne ferry and inundated large areas of east England and the Netherlands;

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– Made money growing potatoes in the hot and dry summers of 1975 and 1976 when the English crop shrivelled up while the Scottish crop grew well;

– Lost most of that money in the continous rain of the 1985 summer.

I have not noticed any increase in the number of extreme weather events during the short lifetime of the current crop of climate change proselytisers.

In my short lifetime the population of human beings has tripled, with the consequent removal of vegetation and its substitution by concrete and tarmac. Houses are built on flood plains to accommodate these extra people, and, surprise – surprise, there are floods when it rains.

Carbon dioxide, the concentration of which has gone up from 0.03 per cent to 0.04 per cent of the air since I started school, is not a pollutant, but essential for life as we know it. Our only hope for the future of the planet is to reduce the population of homo sapiens (wise man?).

As the father of four children and grandfather of 11, I had better shut up.

John Henderson, Carnoustie, Angus

Rules for Canada

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Why would the Scottish and UK governments allow fully vaccinated Americans travelling to the UK to skip ten days of quarantining but not provide that same exemption to Canadians arriving in Scotland or England.

The Canadian vaccination rate is much better than the American rate. In Canada 72 per cent have one dose and 58 per cent are fully vaccinated. The American rates are 57 per cent and 49 per cent respectively. As a reader from Canada and Scots expat I would love to see the Scotsman indicate the factual vaccination evidence which would support a Canadian exemption.

Ian Elder, Toronto, Canada

Doctor Woke

The good news is Jodie Whittaker has confirmed she's leaving the BBC science-fiction flagship Dr Who – having been responsible for the all-time lowest viewing figure in the show's history (4.6 million) – along with the producer responsible for hiring her, Chris Chibnall.

The bad news is you can stick your house on Olly Alexander or Richard Ayoade being the replacement, unless the BBC finds a transgender vegan socialist of colour on the autism spectrum who campaigned for Remain.

Mark Boyle, Johnstone, Renfrewshire

All Lives Matter

It's not the greatest shock in the world that so many supporters of “All Lives Matter” are the same people who seem happy to let migrants drown in the Channel.

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Yet another illustration of the fact that for many on the right of the political spectrum, hypocrisy has always been preferable to consistency.

George Shanks, Edinburgh

Absolute truth

Fraser Sutherland, the Chief Executive of the Humanist Society Scotland, challenges Murdo Fraser’s claim that Christianity shaped the values of the society in which we live (Letters, 30 July) on the basis that terrible things were done at the time of the Crusades and in the Middle Ages.

There have undoubtedly been periods in history where, in the name of Christianity, things were done which are not consistent with Christ’s teaching. However, the fact remains that the basic belief in the value of individual human lives can be traced back to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.

The 2019 book Dominion by the historian Tom Holland (referred to by Mr Fraser) demonstrates that the first century Christian church established practices of compassion and justice which are almost universally accepted today. In an article in the New Statesman in 2016, Mr Holland wrote that Christianity is why most of us “still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering” and “it is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value”.

In Jesus’ teaching and example Christians have an absolute standard of truth which should govern how they live their lives and the ethical standards they should hold to and promote.

In contrast, the Humanist Society appears to believe that there is no absolute truth and that what is taken as right and wrong varies from generation to generation. Thus Mr Sutherland can refer to “21st century Scottish people’s ethics” and define these ethics from some perceived temporary consensus.

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He can therefore draw support for his position simply by quoting an opinion poll showing a majority support for assisted suicide. This is a weak and dangerous foundation on which to base one’s worldview.

Does the Humanist Society also support the reintroduction of the death penalty for terrorist murder acts, a position consistently favoured by a majority of the Scottish public? If not, why not?

George Rennie, Inverness, Highland

Heritage threat

Steuart Campbell (Letters, 30 July) admits that that “even they [Edinburgh's planners and councillors] need to have good grounds for rejecting an application”.

That is my point: one sight of the twisted turd is surely the best possible ground for its rejection at the planning stage.

Allowing such excrescences threatens Edinburgh's World Heritage status (I realise that like diarrhoea this debate could run and run...).

Tim Finn, Garvald, East Lothian

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