Complex look at Frederick Douglass with a lesson for Trump era

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2018-10-15 01:05Z by Steven

Complex look at Frederick Douglass with a lesson for Trump era

The Boston Globe
2018-10-12

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor; William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies
Princeton University


Enrique Moreiro for The Boston Globe

David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018)

David Blight has written the definitive biography of Frederick Douglass. With extraordinary detail he illuminates the complexities of Douglass’s life and career and paints a powerful portrait of one of the most important American voices of the 19th century. One would expect nothing less. Blight, considered a leading authority on the slavery period, has been thinking about Douglass for over 35 years. The Yale historian wrote his dissertation on him. And now with unprecedented access to a trove of material gathered by African-American art collector Walter O. Evans, Blight sheds light on the final 30 years of Douglass’s life in ways we have never seen. The resulting chronicle enriches our understanding of Douglass and the challenges he faced and offers a lesson for our own troubled times.

What surfaces is a powerful and flawed human being. We see him struggling to create himself under the conditions of slavery, waging war against the peculiar institution with words and action, raging against “the infinite manifestations of racism” (what Douglass called our “national faith”), and remaining a loyal partisan of the Republican Party until the day his heart gave out in 1895 at age 77. His is a journey from radical outsider to political insider, a prophet whose fires cooled as he aged, gained famed, and acquired access to the corridors of power.

But we also get a glimpse of the intimate spaces of Douglass’s private life that are haunted by the specter of his slave experience. Blight reminds us that slavery stole from Douglass “all filial affection . . . [H]e never found it easy to love, while always seeking love as much as anything else in life.” Perhaps this gaping absence or, better, need, along with his hatred of slavery and American racism, kept him on the road, even in old age. Douglass maintained a back-breaking speaking schedule. Constantly traveling, he left his family in the hands of his unshakable wife, Anna Murray, an illiterate, free-born woman who grew up on the east bank of the Tuckahoe River in Maryland. It was she who bore the burden of raising their family, managing the household (often under financial duress), and helping to navigate the life of the most famous black man in the world…

Read the entire review here.

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Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2018-10-12 13:56Z by Steven

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Simon & Schuster
2018-10-02
864 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781416590316

David W. Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of American History; Professor of African-American and American Studies; Director, Gilder Lehrman Center
Yale University

The definitive, dramatic biography of the most important African-American of the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.

As a young man Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. He wrote three versions of his autobiography over the course of his lifetime and published his own newspaper. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.

Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, often to large crowds, using his own story to condemn slavery. He broke with Garrison to become a political abolitionist, a Republican, and eventually a Lincoln supporter. By the Civil War and during Reconstruction, Douglass became the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. He denounced the premature end of Reconstruction and the emerging Jim Crow era. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. He sometimes argued politically with younger African-Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights.

In this remarkable biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers. Blight tells the fascinating story of Douglass’s two marriages and his complex extended family. Douglass was not only an astonishing man of words, but a thinker steeped in Biblical story and theology. There has not been a major biography of Douglass in a quarter century. David Blight’s Frederick Douglass affords this important American the distinguished biography he deserves.

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Frederick Douglass, Refugee

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery on 2018-02-20 03:42Z by Steven

Frederick Douglass, Refugee

The Atlantic
2017-02-07

David Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of American History; Professor of African-American and American Studies; Director, Gilder Lehrman Center
Yale University


J.C. Buttre / Wikimedia

Throughout modern history, the millions forced to flee as refugees and beg for asylum have felt Douglass’s agony, and thought his thoughts.

Frederick Douglass, author, orator, editor, and most important African American leader of the 19th century, was a dangerous illegal immigrant. Well, in 1838 he escaped a thoroughly legal system of enslavement to the tenuous condition of fugitive resident of a northern state that had outlawed slavery, but could only protect his “freedom” outside of the law.

Douglass’s life and work serve as a striking symbol of one of the first major refugee crises in our history. From the 1830s through the 1850s, the many thousands of runaway slaves, like Douglass, who escaped into the North, into Canada, or Mexico put enormous pressure on those places’ political systems. The presence and contested status of fugitive slaves polarized voters in elections; they were the primary subject of major legislation such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as well as Supreme Court decisions such as Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857. They were at the heart of a politics of fear in the 1850s that led to disunion. Among the many legacies of Douglass’s life and writings alive today, one of the most potent is his role as an illegal migrant and very public abolitionist orator and journalist posing as a free black citizen in slaveholding America.

On February 1, 2017, President Donald J. Trump made some brief remarks on Black History Month. “Frederick Douglass,” he said, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job, that is being recognized more and more, I notice.” That afternoon in one of the discussion sections of my lecture course at Yale on “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era,” my teaching fellow, Michael Hattem, reports that he read that quotation to the class. Students had just been assigned to read Douglass’s classic first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Michael says the class let out an audible collective groan, and one student declared: “My God, he doesn’t know who he was!”

…Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, his father likely his owner and his mother, Harriet, likely the owner’s slave, Douglass lived twenty years in bondage on Maryland’s eastern shore and in Baltimore. At age 18 he organized an escape plot with a small “band of brothers” among the slaves on a farm near St. Michaels, Maryland. Foiled and betrayed, he and his comrades were arrested, put in chains and marched several miles to the jail in Easton, the Talbot County seat. As great luck, Douglass’s owner, Thomas Auld, sent his slave back to Baltimore rather than selling him into obscurity in the deep South. Two years later, in a cunning and brave plot hatched with a few friends and with his intrepid fiancée, Anna Murray, Douglass escaped from slavery by train, steamer, and ferryboat to New York City, disguised as a sailor. His story is one of great drama and risk in the face of what he called a sense of “hopelessness” and “loneliness.” But in recollecting these events Douglass left the world an illegal refugee-immigrant’s language of fear and courage. His greatest power always resided in the written and spoken word…

Read the entire article here.

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My Bondage and My Freedom

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2014-04-20 16:52Z by Steven

My Bondage and My Freedom

Yale University Press
2014 (originally published in 1855 by Miller, Orton & Mulligan)
432 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Paperback ISBN: 9780300190595

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)

Introduction and Notes by David W. Blight

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass escaped to freedom and became a passionate advocate for abolition and social change and the foremost spokesperson for the nation’s enslaved African American population in the years preceding the Civil War. My Bondage and My Freedom is Douglass’s masterful recounting of his remarkable life and a fiery condemnation of a political and social system that would reduce people to property and keep an entire race in chains.

This classic is revisited with a new introduction and annotations by celebrated Douglass scholar David W. Blight. Blight situates the book within the politics of the 1850s and illuminates how My Bondage represents Douglass as a mature, confident, powerful writer who crafted some of the most unforgettable metaphors of slavery and freedom—indeed of basic human universal aspirations for freedom—anywhere in the English language.

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