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’s Fight Against Scientific Racism

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, United States on 2018-02-25 18:33Z by Steven

Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism

The New York Times
2018-02-22

Eric Herschthal, Fellow
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library


Frederick Douglass in the 1870s. Scientists, he wrote, sometimes “sacrifice what is true to what is popular.”
Credit Corbis, via Getty Images

The 200th birthday of one of America’s greatest thinkers, Frederick Douglass, is being celebrated this month. Douglass is remembered as many things: a fugitive slave who gained his freedom, an abolitionist, an advocate for women’s rights, a gifted writer and orator. But we should also remember him as someone whose insights about scientific theories of race are every bit as relevant in our era as they were when he wrote them.

When Douglass rose to prominence, in the 1840s, he was living in a world just as excited and anxious about his era’s new inventions, like the railroad and the telegraph, as we are about modern-day innovation. But he understood that the ends to which science could be used were forever bound up with the moral choices of its practitioners. “Scientific writers, not less than others, write to please, as well as to instruct,” he wrote in 1854, “and even unconsciously to themselves (sometimes) sacrifice what is true to what is popular.”

That statement was part of a lecture in which he attacked one of the most prominent scientific fields of the antebellum era: ethnology, or what was sometimes called “the science of race.” Though often dismissed today as pseudoscience, at the time Douglass was writing, it was considered legitimate. The most accomplished scientists engaged in it, and the public eagerly consumed it…

…Of course, engaging with ethnology on its own terms was a dangerous game. It sometimes meant that Douglass perpetuated scientific ways of thinking about race rather than simply dismantling its logic and insisting on race as a product of history. He borrowed from the ethnological theories of his friend James McCune Smith, a fellow black abolitionist and the nation’s first credentialed black physician, to argue that both black and white people would be improved by racial mixing.

Yet it would be wrong to dismiss these ideas as merely the result of Douglass’s own mixed racial heritage — his father, possibly his owner, was white — or as a backhanded insult to black history, to black culture. They were always written in the service of a clear political agenda, one that was radical for his time: full black integration rather than segregation…

Read the entire article here.

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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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Frederick Douglass: a multi-racial trailblazer

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2018-02-11 05:14Z by Steven

Frederick Douglass: a multi-racial trailblazer

The Baltimore Sun
2018-02-08

Tanya Katerí Hernández, Professor of Law
Fordham University School of Law


Gregory Morton purchased Frederick Douglass’ home in Fells Point and makes it available to rent on Airbnb. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Last year President Trump made statements that left the impression he believed that abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive. In some respects, he still is. This month marks the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth, and his racial justice work continues to be relevant today. In fact, after President Trump was informed that Douglass died in 1895, the president signed into law the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act to organize events to honor the bicentennial anniversary of Douglass’s birth.

While slave records mark Douglass’ birth month as February — he was born in a plantation on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County — his status as a slave meant he had no information about the exact day he was born. As an adult he chose Feb. 14th for himself as a birth date. He was also never told who his father was, but circumstances lead him to conclude that it was his white slave owner.

Despite his mixed-race heritage and likely connection to his owner, Douglass was separated from his mother at an early age and exposed to physical abuse from his owners…

Read the entire article here.

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Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2017-05-03 02:24Z by Steven

Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos

Oxford University Press
2017-05-01
280 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0190633691

Juliet Hooker, Associate Professor of Government and African and African Diaspora Studies
University of Texas, Austin

  • The first book to simultaneously analyze U.S. African-American and Latin American political thinkers and their ideas about race.
  • Transforms understandings of prominent U.S. African-American and Latin American intellectuals through a hemispheric analysis.
  • Challenges political theory’s preoccupation with East/West comparisons by foregrounding the Americas.
  • Brings African-American and Latin American political thought into conversation and shows how each discipline was developed through transnational intellectual exchanges.
  • Maps a genealogy of racial thought in the Americas.

In 1845 two thinkers from the American hemisphere – the Argentinean statesman Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, and the fugitive ex-slave, abolitionist leader, and orator from the United States, Frederick Douglass – both published their first works. Each would become the most famous and enduring texts in what were both prolific careers, and they ensured Sarmiento and Douglass’ position as leading figures in the canon of Latin American and U.S. African-American political thought, respectively. But despite the fact that both deal directly with key political and philosophical questions in the Americas, Douglass and Sarmiento, like African-American and Latin American thought more generally, are never read alongside each other. This may be because their ideas about race differed dramatically. Sarmiento advocated the Europeanization of Latin America and espoused a virulent form of anti-indigenous racism, while Douglass opposed slavery and defended the full humanity of black persons. Still, as Juliet Hooker contends, looking at the two together allows one to chart a hemispheric intellectual geography of race that challenges political theory’s preoccupation with and assumptions about East/West comparisons, and questions the use of comparison as a tool in the production of theory and philosophy.

By juxtaposing four prominent nineteenth and twentieth-century thinkers – Frederick Douglass, Domingo F. Sarmiento, W. E. B. Du Bois, and José Vasconcelos – her book will be the first to bring African-American and Latin American political thought into conversation. Hooker stresses that Latin American and U.S. ideas about race were not developed in isolation, but grew out of transnational intellectual exchanges across the Americas. In so doing, she shows that nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S. and Latin American thinkers each looked to political models in the ‘other’ America to advance racial projects in their own countries. Reading these four intellectuals as hemispheric thinkers, Hooker foregrounds elements of their work that have been dismissed by dominant readings, and provides a crucial platform to bridge the canons of Latin American and African-American political thought.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Race Theory and Hemispheric Juxtaposition
  • Part I : Ambas Américas
    • 1. “A Black Sister to Massachusetts”: Latin America and the Fugitive Democratic Ethos of Frederick Douglass
    • 2. “Mi Patria de Pensamiento”: Sarmiento, the United States, and the Pitfalls of Comparison
  • Part II: Mestizo Futurologies
    • 3. “To See, Foresee, and Prophesy”: Du Bois’ Mulatto Fictions and Afro-Futurism
    • 4. “A Doctrine that Nourished the Hopes of the Non-White Races”: Vasconcelos, Mestizaje’s Travels, and U.S. Latino Politics
    • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself, Critical Edition

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2016-11-14 20:38Z by Steven

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself, Critical Edition

Yale University Press
2016-10-25
264 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
7 b/w illustrations
Paperback ISBN: 9780300204711

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)

Edited by:

John R. McKivigan, Mary O’Brien Gibson Professor of History
Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis

Peter P. Hinks

Heather L. Kaufman, Research Associate
The Douglass Papers

A new edition of one of the most influential literary documents in American and African American history

Ideal for coursework in American and African American history, this revised edition of Frederick Douglass’s memoir of his life as a slave in pre-Civil War Maryland incorporates a wide range of supplemental materials to enhance students’ understanding of slavery, abolitionism, and the role of race in American society. Offering readers a new appreciation of Douglass’s world, it includes documents relating to the slave narrative genre and to the later career of an essential figure in the nineteenth-century abolition movement.

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Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs on 2016-11-02 20:55Z by Steven

Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature

Princeton University Press
November 2016
304 pages
6 x 9
12 line illus.
Hardcover ISBN: 9780691169453
eBook ISBN: 9781400883745

Daniel Hack, Associate Professor of English
University of Michigan

Tackling fraught but fascinating issues of cultural borrowing and appropriation, this groundbreaking book reveals that Victorian literature was put to use in African American literature and print culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in much more intricate, sustained, and imaginative ways than previously suspected. From reprinting and reframing “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in an antislavery newspaper to reimagining David Copperfield and Jane Eyre as mixed-race youths in the antebellum South, writers and editors transposed and transformed works by the leading British writers of the day to depict the lives of African Americans and advance their causes. Central figures in African American literary and intellectual history—including Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, and W.E.B. Du Bois—leveraged Victorian literature and this history of engagement itself to claim a distinctive voice and construct their own literary tradition.

In bringing these transatlantic transfigurations to light, this book also provides strikingly new perspectives on both canonical and little-read works by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and other Victorian authors. The recovery of these works’ African American afterlives illuminates their formal practices and ideological commitments, and forces a reassessment of their cultural impact and political potential. Bridging the gap between African American and Victorian literary studies, Reaping Something New changes our understanding of both fields and rewrites an important chapter of literary history.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The African Americanization of Victorian Literature
  • 1. Close Reading Bleak House at a Distance
  • 2. (Re-) Racializing “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
  • 3. Affiliating with George Eliot
  • 4. Racial Mixing and Textual Remixing: Charles Chesnutt
  • 5. Cultural Transmission and Transgression: Pauline Hopkins
  • 6. The Citational Soul of Black Folk: W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Afterword After Du Bois
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Black as We Wanna Be

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-18 17:45Z by Steven

Black as We Wanna Be

The Nation
2016-09-15

Matthew McKnight, Assistant Literary Editor


Frederick Douglass, February 21, 1895. (National Park Service, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, DC)

Stauffer, John, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier, Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (New York: Liveright, 2015)

Fields, Karen E., and Barbara J. Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (Brooklyn: Verso, 2012)

Trying to remedy racism on its own intellectual terrain is like trying to extinguish a fire by striking another match. The fiction must be unbelieved, the fire stamped out.

In her 2003 book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag explored some questions about the ever-evolving technology of photography and what it does to us, particularly when it’s used to capture moments that would normally make us avert our eyes. “Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order,” Sontag wrote, “are those who could do something to alleviate it—say, the surgeons at the military hospital where the photograph was taken—or those who could learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be.” Sontag spends much of the book discussing war photography; scant pages mention images and cruelties closer to home.

In the modern American context, there remains perhaps no more insidious cruelty than the belief—constantly manipulated and reinforced—that race is a natural and constant thing, something that should have any bearing on how we choose to organize our society and our lives. And though the convergence of racism and the photographic impulse isn’t new, the recent pictures and videos of killings by police officers have given renewed life to the questions that Sontag explored—and those she didn’t. Indeed, these images raise fewer questions about the act of looking at them than about the ways in which we view ourselves.

To modern eyes, the photographic portraits of Frederick Douglass are not so remarkable. Douglass was almost always photographed seated, wearing a dark suit, alternately staring directly into the camera and looking off to one side. As he abided by the portrait conventions of the era, only his skin color would have made these portraits remarkable in Douglass’s own time. The real joy of Picturing Frederick Douglass (2015)—a collection of 60 portraits, taken between 1841 and 1895; his four speeches on his theory of photography; and a critical essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr.—is to study his constancy. The changes in Douglass’s facial expressions across all of the portraits are mostly imperceptible: He looks serious, defiant, and proud.

The final portrait of Douglass was taken on February 21, 1895. He’d died the day before. That image shows him lying on his bed in Washington, DC. It is mostly a spectral gray-white. His hair and beard, his clothes, the bed linens, and the wall in the background all appear to be about the same color. There’s a faint outline of his profile, and with his hands crossed over his abdomen, he looks as dignified as ever…

Read the entire article here.

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Who’s the most photographed American man of the 19th Century? HINT: It’s not Lincoln…

Posted in Anthropology, Arts, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-03-31 00:35Z by Steven

Who’s the most photographed American man of the 19th Century? HINT: It’s not Lincoln…

The Washington Post
2016-03-15

Jennifer Beeson Gregory

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass would become one of the most well-known abolitionists, orators, and writers of his time. He understood and heralded not only the power of the written or spoken word, but also the power of the visual image — especially, his own likeness. He therefore sat for portraits wherever and whenever he could. As a result, Douglass was photographed more than any other American of his era: 160 distinct images (mostly portraits) have survived, more than Abraham Lincoln at 126. Many of these rare, historically significant images are published for the first time in “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American,” by John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd and Celeste-Marie Bernier.

This book shows all 160 photos and delves into Douglass’s life and passions, including photography. In his writings, Douglass praises Louis Daguerre, who invented the daguerreotype, which made the developing process easier and cheaper, and in turn made photography available to the masses. By the mid-19th century, there were portrait studios all over the Northern United States. Almost everyone in a free state could afford to have their picture taken — even non-whites. Douglass therefore called photography a “democratic art.”…


Unknown Photographer, Honeymoon with Helen Pitts in Niagara Falls, N.Y., August 1884. Albumen print (Frederick Douglass National Historic Site/National Park Service)

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