Actor portrays slavery fighter

WARREN – You could hear a pin drop Saturday in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan at the Trumbull County Courthouse.

Standing tall in the largest courtroom in the state of Ohio was beloved abolitionist Frederick Douglass, portrayed by actor Michael Crutcher of Kentucky, who took the crowd back in time to the year 1876 when Douglass gave a speech in Warren.

Regaling a full courtroom with tales of the terrors of slavery and his ability to triumph in the face of hardship, Crutcher held everyone captive as he spoke in the voice of a person long gone but never forgotten.

“I was taken out of the arms of my mother when I was an infant, and my mother was sold. She worked in the fields, in all elements, in the heat, in the cold, in the rain.

“I never recall seeing my mother’s face in the light of day. One day she didn’t return, and I was told she died,” he said.

As the horror of that statement sunk in, Douglass continued his tale, lightening it up at times with stories of his grandmother and how he succeeded in catching his first fish. He also spoke of how becoming literate helped him to liberate himself and others.

“They wanted to keep us ignorant. I became slave owners everywhere’s worst nightmare,” he said.

Douglass became a writer, reformer, statesman and powerful orator. He spoke in Warren in 1847 and again at the Warren City Building on March 1, 1876.

Douglass risked his own freedom by becoming an outspoken anti-slavery lecturer, writer and publisher. He was recognized as one of America’s first great black speakers. Douglass became one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery in the United States.

Douglass served as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and fought for the adoption of constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties for blacks.

Local historians have said Douglass visited the Warren area, which during the Civil War was anti-slavery and part of the Underground Railroad that aided fugitive slaves in their escape to freedom.

Prior to the presentation, Mikayla Shively, 9, and her mother, Courtney, of Warren, eagerly awaited Douglass’ arrival.

“She loves history,” Courtney Shively said.

“It’s my favorite subject,” Mikayla Shively confirmed. “I just like history.”

Ralph and Phyllis Thomas of Champion also were looking forward to the speech.

“We read about it in the paper. He’s a great history person,” said Phyllis Thomas.

Ralph Thomas said he was familiar with Douglass’ life but was eager to hear some of the more intimate details.

The event was sponsored by the CW 150 Committee of the Sutliff Museum, Trumbull County, which has held events running from 2011 through 2015 to mark the 150 years since the U.S. Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865.

“He’s my favorite American hero,” said Warren Mayor Doug Franklin prior to Douglass’ speech – and not just a black hero, he noted, adding, “He’s truly an American hero.”

Bob Coupland contributed to this report.