5. Cooper Union at 7 East 7th Street

Cooper Union-Astor Place-Frederick Douglass-Abraham Lincoln-NYC

Photo by Amy Cools

The Cooper Union building has had about as many great speaker’s voices echoing down its halls as you could wish for, including Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, both friends of Douglass. In November of 1861, Douglass delivered a speech here forcefully calling for the immediate emancipation of all slaves and for the enlistment of black soldiers into the Union Army, which would not be allowed until a little over a year later.

Douglass felt it was all-important that black people should be at the forefront of the Civil War, which everyone knew, and still do if they’re being honest, was more about slavery than anything else. Not only would this prove to their fellow Americans that black people were as brave and able as anyone else, as too many Americans both north and south had trouble believing at that time, it would give soldiers the opportunity to improve their own fortunes by establishing them as heroes, and by instilling in them that sense of confidence and self-worth born of taking their own destinies finally and firmly into their own hands.

Douglass returned to Cooper Union to speak more than once. On another occasion on May 30th 1865, Douglass memorialized the recently martyred Lincoln and denounced the New York Common Council for not allowing black people to participate in Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City.