The Western Reserve College Class of 1854 invited Frederick Douglass to speak at College Commencement. The decision was not a popular one and had been "severely criticized in the public prints and in private" (Ohio Observer, July 19, 1854). The Trustees and President asked the class to reconsider, but the class was unanimous even after a revote. Douglass spoke on July 12, 1854 on the Western Reserve College Chapel lawn to a crowd of thousands “the largest gathering the town of Hudson had ever seen on commencement day.” (Pelster, p. 74). Despite the initial opposition, his speech was well-received and the local newspaper reported “a gentleman of the town who had resided in Hudson since the formation of the College, remarked that, except in a single instance, no man had ever commanded so good attention" (Ohio Observer, July 19, 1854).
“This occasion is to me one of no ordinary interest, for many reasons; and the honor you have done me, in selecting me as your speaker, is as grateful to my heart, as it is novel in the history of American Collegiate or Literary Institutions. Surprised as I am, the public are no less surprised, at the spirit of independence, and the moral courage displayed by the gentlemen at whose call I am here. There is felt to be a principle in the matter, placing it far above egotism or personal vanity; a principle which gives to this occasion a general, and I had almost said, an universal interest. I engage to-day, for the first time, in the exercises of any College Commencement. It is a new chapter in my humble experience.”
Frederick Douglass, An Address Before the Literary Societies, Western Reserve College, July 12, 1854, p.3.