Frederick Douglass didn’t know what day he was born — having been born a slave — so he picked a day, February 14. Timothy Sandefur at Freespace notes a new book on the way about Douglass, and a few other details.
Douglass is to me the very model of an ideological reformer. He lived his beliefs 100 percent (even marrying a white woman in 1884; can you imagine?) and he, in his own words, agitated, agitated, agitated. But he was respectful, decorous, dignified, rebellious, and intelligent. He was eloquent and smart, but he knew the necessity of violence in some circumstances. And although he understood the need for occasional compromise, he compromised in the right way, never letting go of the ultimate vision and never letting his enemies forget that he knew why they were wrong, and that he would not rest until they were set right. Even then, his focus was not on defeating his opponents, but at getting to the right result. “The man who has thoroughly embraced the principles of justice, love and liberty,” he wrote, “like the true preacher of Christianity, is less anxious to reproach the world of its sins, than to win it to repentance. His great work on earth is to exemplify, and to illustrate, and to engraft those principles on the living and practical understandings of all men within the reach of his influence…. It is to snatch from the bosom of nature the latent facts of each individual man’s experience and with a steady hand to hold them up fresh and glowing, enforcing with all his power their acknowledgment and practical adoption.” That accurately describes Douglass’s own conduct in his life. He was a man of principles and a man of action.
Gotta note that for the calendar next year.
Years ago, the first significant piece I ever read on Douglass claimed that he was in the White House often enough to know his way around, and on more than one occasion was mistaken for President Lincoln by visitors unfamiliar with either man. It’s difficult to know how accurate such a claim could be, and I’ve not found it noted anywhere in the last decade or so. For my U.S. history class skeptics, however, I got a lucite cube that allowed two photos to be displayed, and displayed Douglass on one side and Lincoln on the other. Looking quickly, students often mistook which one was on display. I suppose such identity confusion is possible.
Douglass’s story is great inspiration, and a testament to the value of education. Every school kid should know it.
- Biography, from PBS’s “Africans in America” series
- More detailed biography by Sandra Ross at Rochester University [link not working, 8-13-2012]
- Biography at America’s Story
- Virtual tour of the Anacostia home of Frederick Douglass (District of Columbia), from the National Park Service
- American Visionaries, Frederick Douglass (from National Park Service)
- Biography from National Park Service, with interesting links
- Douglass speeches, from FrederickDouglass.org
- Frederick Douglass papers, at the Library of Congress
- Update, August 13, 2012: At the request of Online University, I list their Douglass Biography
- Home page for the Frederick Douglass Project at the University of Rochester