Expendito Chipasha Chipalo –
The achievements of many black men have always been overshadowed by the well publicised accomplishments of white men.
This column will feature extraordinary success stories of black people over the centuries.
The column is not a racial rebuttal but a documentation of history which will, hopefully, contribute to the emancipation of the African mind.
“The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are”… Maya Angelou
Douglass was a firm believer in education and his post-civil war activism included a campaign for the desegregation of education. He complained that there was a huge gap between the education offered to white children and that offered to black children in segregated schools while urging freed blacks to go to school.
“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave,” was Douglass’s clarion call to his black brothers and sisters.
Douglass complained that the facilities and instruction for African American children were ‘vastly inferior to those of the white’. He therefore called for court action to open all schools to all children. He felt that full inclusion in the education system was more pressing for African Americans than the political issues of universal suffrage.
Douglass published two more books; My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855 and later the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He also merged the North Star with Gerrit Smith’s Liberty Party Paper to form the Frederick Douglass Paper which went out of circulation in 1860.
In 1868, Douglass campaigned for President Ulysses S Grant because he stood firmly against white supremacists; the Ku Klux Clan, in the former Confederate States who established discriminatory laws and acted as paramilitary wings of the Democratic Party that hounded Republicans out of their offices and disrupted elections in the Deep South.
Douglass championed the Civil Rights Acts of 1871 (also known as the Klan Act) through his last newspaper, the New National Era. President Grant also signed the Second and Third Enforcement Acts which he used to suspend habeas corpus in Carolina, send troops into other states and arrest over 5,000 Klan members.
President Grant’s actions in disrupting the Ku Klux Klan made him very unpopular among the whites, but it earned him a lot of praise from Douglass. An associate of Douglass commented about Grant saying: “African Americans will ever cherish a grateful remembrance of his name, fame and great service”.
In 1872, the Equal Rights Party nominated Douglass as the first African American Vice President of the United States as running mate ot Victoria Woodhull. Douglass was nominated in his absence and never campaigned nor acknowledged the nomination.
Douglass’s growing fame attracted the wrath of his adversaries and soon after his nomination, his house in South Avenue in Rochester, New York was burned down and arson was suspected. He lost a complete issue of the North Star.
This unfortunate incident forced him to move to Washington DC where in 1877, he bought a 14 roomed house above the Anacostia River. He expanded the house to 21 rooms and bought the adjoining lots to expand the property to 15 acres. Douglass and his wife Anna named the property Cedar Hill. The property is now preserved as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
In the reconstruction era, Douglass was first appointed President of the Freedman’s Savings Bank which unfortunately went bankrupt in 1874 while his final Newspaper, The New Era failed as well. Republican President Rutherford B Hayes then appointed Douglass as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia which helped him to ensure his family’s financial security.
Douglass received another political appointment in 1881 as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia. He also published the final edition of his autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
His wife, Anna Murray-Douglass died in 1882. The couple had five children, Rosseta Douglass, Lewis Henry Douglass, Frederick Douglass Junior, Charles Remond Douglass and Annie Douglass.
Douglass was devastated by the loss of his wife of 44 years. He remained a widower until 1884 when he married Helen Pitts, a white feminist and daughter of Douglass’s friend, Gideon Pitts. Helen was 20 years younger than Douglass and her family disapproved of the marriage and stopped talking to her. Douglass children also protested against the marriage which they considered “a repudiation of their mother”.
Douglass’s response to the criticism was typical of his incisive oratory and frankness. His first marriage, he said, had been to someone the colour of his mother, and his second the colour of his father.
After his second marriage, he continued his travels and lecturing. He traveled extensively with his new wife to England, Ireland, France, Italy, Egypt and Greece from 1886 to 1887. During this trip, he advocated for Irish Home Rule.
On his return to the United States, Douglass once again became the first African American to receive a vote at a major party’s convention. He received a vote for President of the United States at the 1888 Republican Party’s roll call.
The Republic of Haiti appointed him as minister resident and consul-general in 1889. The appointment did not last long but in 1892, Douglass became Haiti’s commissioner to the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The same year, Douglass constructed rental housing for blacks in Baltimore. The housing scheme still exists and it is now known as Douglass Place and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Douglass died of a heart attack on 20 February, 1895 upon returning home from a National Council of Women meeting in Washington D.C. He was a deeply religious man and his funeral took place at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
He was buried next to his first wife Anna at Rochester, New York, where he had lived longest than anywhere else in his life. His second wife Helen joined them in 1903.
Before his death, Douglass visited had visited his former master and owner Thomas Auld and the two reconciled. Earlier, Auld’s daughter, Amanda Auld Sears had reached out to Douglass. Amanda cheered Douglass speeches at several meetings although he had published an open letter berating her father for his conduct.
In a graphic passage published in his Newspaper, Douglass inquired about the members of his family who were enslaved by Auld and asked his former master how he would feel if Douglass went to take away his daughter Amanda as a slave and treat her the way Auld had treated him and members of his family. However, the meeting brought closure to Douglass.
Legacy and Honours
The Episcopal Church (USA) remembers Douglass annually on its liturgical calendar for February 20, the anniversary of his death. Many public schools have also been named in his honor. Other honors and remembrances, organized chronologically, include:
• In 1921, members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (the first African-American intercollegiate fraternity) designated Frederick Douglass as an honorary member. Douglass thus became the only man to receive an honorary membership posthumously.
• The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, sometimes referred to as the South Capitol Street Bridge, just south of the US Capitol in Washington DC, was built in 1950 and named in his honor.
• In 1962, his home in Anacostia (Washington, DC) became part of the National Park System, and in 1988 was designated the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
• In 1965, the U.S. Postal Service honored Douglass with a stamp in the Prominent Americans series.
• In 1999, Yale University established the Frederick Douglass Book Prize for works in the history of slavery and abolition, in his honor. The annual $25,000 prize is administered by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale.
• In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Frederick Douglass to his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
• In 2003, Douglass Place, the rental housing units that Douglass built in Baltimore in 1892 for blacks, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
• In 2007, the former Troup–Howell bridge which carried Interstate 490 over the Genesee River was redesigned and renamed the Frederick Douglass – Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge.
• In 2010, a statue (by Gabriel Koren) and memorial (designed by Algernon Miller) of Douglass were unveiled at Frederick Douglass Circle at the northwest corner of Central Park in New York City.
• Also in 2010, the New York Writers Hall of Fame inducted Douglass in its inaugural class.
• On June 12, 2011, Talbot County, Maryland, honored Douglass by installing a seven-foot bronze statue of Douglass on the lawn of the county courthouse in Easton, Maryland.
• The Frederick Douglass Institute is a West Chester University program for advancing multicultural studies across the curriculum and for deepening the intellectual heritage of Frederick Douglass.
On June 19, 2013, a statue of Douglass by Maryland artist Steven Weitzman was unveiled in the United States Capitol Visitor Center as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, the first statue representing the District of Columbia
FREDRICK DOUGLASS FAMOUS QUOTES
1. “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”
2. “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
3. “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
4. “People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”
5. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”
6. “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery.”
7. “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”
8. “The man who is right is a majority. We, who have God and conscience on our side, have a majority against the universe.”
9. “He is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.
What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.”
10. “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”
11. “Mr. Lincoln was not only a great President, but a great man — too great to be small in anything. In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.”
12. “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”
13. “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”
14. “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”