BLACK Lives Matter may be the cause of the last year, but in truth, black lives have been mattering in Scotland for the last couple of hundred years, and no more so than 175 years ago when anti-slavery titan Frederick Douglass toured the country.

This month marked the start of the first set of Scottish lecture tours given by Douglass (a more common spelling in the US).

Douglass, born a slave Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Maryland in 1818, had escaped his captivity at 20 and taken on the name Douglass after the heroic exiled figure James Douglas, from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady Of The Lake. He had come to Scotland still technically a slave and it was while here that his friends gathered enough money to buy him out of captivity.

He would spend two years touring Britain and Ireland between 1845 and 1847 and again in 1859 and 1860, the latter as he aimed to build on the anti-slavery momentum built up by John Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal.

When Douglass took to the stage in Scotland, it was against a backdrop of protest towards the recently formed Free Church of Scotland who had taken slaveholders’ money in the USA for their coffers.

READ MORE: Michael Fry: Why Scots must always keep returning to the subject of slavery

He would tell a packed audience in Dundee: “I am only here to plead the cause of the slave, and to arouse the energies and obtain the co-operation of the good people of old Scotland on behalf of what I believe to be a righteous cause – the undoing of the heavy burdens and letting the oppressed go free.

“This state of pollution – of blood, for such it is – of atheism – of gross and dark infidelity – of lawless murder and plunder – is upheld, as I can prove, by the churches, by the clergy of the United States.”

He became enamoured with Scotland in his time here and he even considered settling in the Scottish capital with his wife and four children.

A mural was created on Lower Gilmore Place in Edinburgh to mark one of the billets, No. 33, where he stayed in Scotland during these years.

He waxed lyrical about the Scott Monument, Princes Street, Calton Hill, Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat – but most importantly Edinburgh’s people.

He said of the city in a letter he sent to his friend William White, dated July 30, 1846: “I enjoy everything here which may be enjoyed by those of a paler hue – no distinction here.”

The Scottish people immediately took to Douglass, who would play up to his adopted name by comparing himself with Robert the Bruce’s comrade in arms James “The Black Douglas” and his message.

He referenced the Highland Clearances in his arguments asking how those who had experienced the Highland Clearance could support slavery.

Douglass toured extensively, taking in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee as well as Perth, Arbroath, Montrose, Paisley, Ayr, Kilmarnock, Greenock, Duntocher, Bonhill, Hawick, Galashiels, Coldstream, Kelso, Falkirk, Dalkeith, Montrose and Kirkcaldy.

And they rallied to his cause and his campaign levelled at the Free Church to “Send Back The Money”.

A popular song at the time urged them to:

Send back the Money! Send it back!

Tis dark polluted gold;

Twas wrung from human flesh and bones,

By agonies untold:

There’s not a mite in all the sum

But what is stained with blood;

There’s not a mite in all the sum

But what is cursed of God?

Send back the Money! Send it back!

Partake not in their sin

Who buy and sell, and trade in men,

Accursed gains to win:

There’s not a mite in all the sum

An honest man may claim;

There’s not a mite but what can tell

Of fraud, deceit, and shame …

Then send the money back again!

And send without delay;

It may not, must not, cannot bear

The light of British day.

Douglass was immediately visible around the streets of Scotland and used that to his advantage. He was also a master of the political gesture.

In May 1846 his friend and fellow campaigner George Thompson suggested that the slogan “Send Back The Money” should be carved onto Salisbury Crags for all in the city to see.

The Fife Herald reported on May 21, 1846 that Douglass, together with two ladies from the Society of Friends, immediately hurried up the hill “spade in hand” to do exactly that. Having decided on “a spot in the vicinity of the Queen’s Drive” (the road around Arthur’s Seat was being constructed at the time), Douglass began to carve “in graceful characters”.

The stunt was brought to a close though as the paper explained: “Information having reached the persons entrusted with the charge of the grounds, we understand that Mr Douglass was immediately taken to task … the philanthropic man of colour expressed deep contrition for the crime, and here the matter at present rests.’’

In spite of the indignation from the public and such eye-catching tactics, the Free Church refused to give way.

READ MORE: The story of the slaves who fought for freedom in Scotland

While the public turned out in force to support Douglass society was still polluted by racism, often dressed up as entertainment. Douglass found himself competing for audiences with blackface minstrel shows, including crowds who flocked to see the Ethiopian Serenaders.

He denounced such performers as “the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied to them by nature”.

The temperature of Scottish feeling to anti-slavery was felt far and wide with the London Daily News reporting that Scotland was “the scene of a movement provocative alike of mirthful and dolorous emotions” and Douglass’s mantra of “Send Back The Money” was painted on walls and pavements, and thus far had created a “perfect hurricane of indignation”.