Historian portrays Frederick Douglass, teaches students about people of the 19th century

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TAMPA, Fla. - Each time Nathan M. Richardson speaks to a school class about Frederick Douglass, the experience is different.

"They’re talking to him in person, so the conversation is led by them and not necessarily by me," he said.

Richardson says "in person", because he’s a historian and interpreter of Frederick Douglass, meaning he dresses, talks and stays in the character of Frederick Douglass throughout the presentation.

Richardson has been portraying Douglass for 10 years and has spoken to a ton of classrooms. While in Tampa for a free community event at the Tampa Theatre for Black History Month, he is speaking to students at four local schools.

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"The funniest part is just meeting people all over the country and especially the kids," Richardson shared.

At Woodson PK-8 School, he spoke to a group of fifth graders, then to a group of fourth graders. Richardson doesn’t follow a script, so the conversations of each presentation were unique to the kids in the room.

"I would want Frederick Douglass to be a gateway to their entire understanding of the people of the 19th century and what they were doing to further what the founding fathers intended," Richardson said.

After an introduction, Richardson asked the kids about what they know about Douglass, then proceeds to share some of his background. He stresses the importance of reading books and gathering knowledge, or as he describes to the room, "open a book and have a conversation with the founding fathers".

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The kids eventually start asking questions.

"I never get nervous about adults, but children, that’s when I start shaking a little bit," he said. "They’re going to question, the young lady asked the question, ‘Were there just whites and blacks in the 19th century?’ That is such a deep question, such a deep question from a fourth grader."

It’s those interactions that Richardson cherishes the most. One of the last things he says to the group is "respect your potential."

"I’m just hoping that they are going to grow up to be smart young children, who can really actually lead the country. I could be talking to the next governor of Florida or governor of Virginia, sitting in this classroom right here," Richardson said. "[I hope] they are going to grow up and be people that can think for themselves, rationalize what’s happening in the country and lead us on, in the words of Frederick Douglass, to a more perfect union."

For more information on the Tampa Theatre performance on Wednesday, click here.