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Boris Johnson gifts Joe Biden picture of anti-slavery campaigner spotted by officials on Wikipedia

The Independent logo The Independent 11/06/2021 Liam James
a statue of a person with graffiti on the side of a building: Mural is near to where abolitionist stayed while in Edinburgh - Melissa Highton © Melissa Highton

Mural is near to where abolitionist stayed while in Edinburgh

- Melissa Highton

Boris Johnson gave Joe Biden a framed photograph of an Edinburgh mural depicting Frederick Douglass, a leading 19th century abolitionist, as a gift to mark the president's visit to Cornwall.

Downing Street decided on the photograph after coming across it on the Wikipedia page for Douglass. Photographer Melissa Highton said officials chose her picture as the knew that the Bidens have an interest in history, particularly the life of Douglass.

The image shows a mural by Scottish artist Ross Blair, also known as Trench-One, painted near to where Douglass stayed during a trip to Edinburgh.

Ms Highton released the photograph under an open licence, meaning anyone is free to share it. She said the prime minister's choice to use her picture "just goes to show that serendipitous things happen when you share openly."

Douglass began life in 1817 as a slave in Maryland. He blagged his way to freedom at 20 years old by posing as a sailor and carrying identity documents given to him by a freed black man. He became a leading figure in the anti-slavery movement in the US within a few years of his escape.

He travelled round Britain and Ireland in the 1840s on a speaking tour and spoke fondly of it, noting he had found "no prejudice to encounter”.

He was fond of Edinburgh, which he noted for its "elegance and grandeur", and Scotland generally. He took his free surname from the hero of Scottish novelist Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

a statue of a person with graffiti on the side of a building: Mural is near to where abolitionist stayed while in Edinburgh (Melissa Highton) © Provided by The Independent Mural is near to where abolitionist stayed while in Edinburgh (Melissa Highton)

Back in America, Douglass was a prominent figure in public life, even being consulted by President Abraham Lincoln on black issues during the Civil War. In an obituary after his shock death in 1895, The New York Times said Douglass had "been often spoken of as the foremost man of the African race in America."

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In return for the photograph, the president gave Mr Johnson a bespoke American-made bicycle painted with the flags of the pair's respective countries. Carrie Johnson was given a leather tote bag made by military wives and a presidential silk scarf.

Jill Biden, the first lady, was given a first edition of The Apple Tree, by Daphne du Maurier, a compendium which includes The Birds, later made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Downing Street said the choice was made to reflect Du Maurier's links to Cornwall, where the G7 summit is being held.

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