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Frederick Douglass

Modern co-operatives pride themselves on being involved in wider community issues like the Co-operative Group’s action on Plan Bee and in respect of the Tar Sands in Canada. Like them, the Fenwick Weavers were also active in wider community issues of their time. Through their involvement in the Fenwick Improvement of Knowledge Society, they campaigned, among other things, for equal rights for women and against slavery.

Indeed, on 5 April 1846, they were instrumental in bringing Frederick Douglass, an escaped American slave, to Fenwick to speak on the evils of that dark trade. The “Annals of Fenwick” record that Mr Douglass gave an “uplifting and rousing speech to an uncommonly large crowd.” The speech was highly successful and there was unanimous agreement for the abolition of slavery. This wider role is typical of modern co-operative values and principles, already in action in the Fenwick Society.

Douglass, on his return to America, became associated with Abraham Lincoln, and he is regarded as one of the icons of the black anti-slavery movement. He is credited with inspiring, among others, Barrack Obama to campaign for the equality of the races, leading to his election as the first black President of the United States. The place of Fenwick in the anti-slavery campaign has never before been told and the initiative of the Weavers and their neighbours is yet another credit to that small village in Ayrshire.