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Lincoln, Douglass to meet again

A Suffolk Art League program this week will bring together a pair of historical portrayers of famous men to bring an unusual 19th-century relationship to light.

Nathan Richardson and Eric Richardson will portray Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, respectively, in the free event “Self-Made Men” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Suffolk Art Gallery, 118 Bosley Ave.

The pair of Richardsons will portray Lincoln and Douglass, an unlikely pair who still had much in common. Neither came from means — Lincoln grew up poor, and Douglass was a slave the first 20 years of his life — but they both fought for a better position in life, hence the program’s title.

The performance will include a short first-person narrative from each man, including some excerpts of speeches. Lincoln and Douglass will reflect on their relationship and also take questions from the audience.
Eric Richardson has been portraying Lincoln for about six years. He said Lincoln was a complicated character when it came to matters of race.

“It’s very interesting how the friendship that blossomed between the two of them, how much it affected Abraham Lincoln’s view on matters,” Eric Richardson said. “A lot of people think he was the Great Emancipator, but that’s not how it started out.”

Lincoln and Douglass met in person only three times, and it was a tenuous relationship, Eric Richardson said — or really, no relationship at all, at first.

“Socializing with persons of the other color was frowned upon,” he said. “It was not a thing they did.”

Nathan Richardson said many associate Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass more closely because they have heard of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. That series of debates during the 1858 Illinois campaign for the U.S. Senate, however, was with Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s Democratic opponent.

Nathan Richardson, who’s been portraying Douglass for more than five years, said he’s excited to do a program with Lincoln. As Douglass, he frequently talks about his relationship with Lincoln, but not with him there.

“I’ve done portrayals with all the suffragettes,” including Susan B. Anthony, Nathan Richardson said. “But this is the first time I’ve done something with Lincoln or any of the men. I’m excited about having a conversation with Lincoln.”

The Suffolk Fine Arts Commission and Pruden Foundation have supported this performance, in addition to support from the city of Suffolk, Suffolk Art Gallery, Suffolk Parks and Recreation and Carter’s Quality Furniture.

Currently on display at the art gallery are the related exhibitions “Thoughtfully Awake” and “The Effects of Jim Crow on Advertising.” Both run through June 7.