Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

wausaubob

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It might have been that Douglass was willing to help Grant, because Grant was the only person with the power and any inclination to stop the murders in the former Confederate states. :smile coffee::wink:
 

Pat Young

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Part 38:

Blight gives a detailed exposition of Douglass's disastrously failed tenure as head of the Freedmen's Bank. Conceived of as a way to bring the blessings of capitalism to the freedpeople, After the Panic of 1873, the Freedmen's Bank was numbered as one among many banks that was on a shaky foundation. Loans secured by land in the South that fluctuated wildly in value, reduced earnings by depositors, and petty corruption by some bank employees all left the bank a sinking ship.

Douglass, who had no experience in banking, was a respected figure who could restore confidence among investors in a financial institution that most depositors would have done best to abandon. Douglass could not save the bank, and he lost thousands of dollars of his own funds when it finally went under. Those who believed in him also lost their small savings, which likely afflicted them more than Douglass's lost thousands afflicted him.
 

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Part 39:

As Reconstruction drew to a close, Douglass was left without a journalistic voice. His newspaper The New National Era went under. Douglass personally lost $10,000 on the newspaper, and the relic of the no longer publishing paper was constantly being sued for unpaid debts.

Douglass was at the same time more needed as a national voice. The Democrats in 1874 had abandoned mere revanchism as their platform. They ran more broadly against government centralization and corruption. Blight writes of Dougalss's response:

Democrats had never shied away from using federal military power when the object was returning fugitive slaves, or handing over John Brown to be executed. He wondered why if the “American people could stand centralization for slavery,” they could not also “stand centralization for liberty.” As for the charges that the new Civil Rights Act pending in the Senate (eventually passed in honor of Charles Sumner) might advance “social equality” between whites and blacks, Douglass exploited the reality of racial mixture: “What is social equality? They had a great deal of it where I came from. A great deal of the social, but no equality.” Two races arrived in North America America in the early seventeenth century, said Douglass, one on the Mayflower at Plymouth, and the other on a “Dutch galliot . . . at Jamestown.” At that time there were no “intermediate races,” but now, two and a half centuries later, because of slavery and long-practiced “social inequality there had come a million and a half of intermediates.” His roaring Yankee audiences loved the joke. (Kindle Locations 10760-10762).

 

Pat Young

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Part 40:

In 1875, Douglass gave the most controversial speech he delivered during Reconstruction. It was a 5th of July Speech. In it he wondered; if war between Northern and Southern whites had resulted in the freedom of the slaves, what would peace and reconciliation of the whites bring for black men and women? The road to reconciliation, Blight writes, was "paved only for white people."

Douglass worried that African Americans were too divided to successfully resist the erosion of their rights that would follow whites reaching out to one another in friendship. They lack a cadre of national leaders and after his own paper had closed they lacked a national press. Rank and file blacks had imbibed a sense of inferiority and were likely to defer to the will of the whites who were their masters in all but legal title.

Douglass also attacked the white-run philanthropies that had been set up to aid and educated the freedmen, wondering if they brought more benefits to their white officers than to their black students, patients, and aid recipients.

The speech was reprinted and commented on in newspapers around the country. Democrats were gleeful at Douglass's rebuke to the white "friends" of the freedmen. Many Republicans were hurt by his reproach. Douglass wrote that his message was misunderstood. He was not calling for blacks to abandon the Republicans. He wrote that his speech was “an appeal to the American people to substitute the simple rule of justice for the rule of invidious charity in their treatment of the negro—to give him his rights rather than alms.”
 

DRW

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I can't figure out how these professors with full-time teaching jobs churn out these heavily researched, massive 900 page books every few years. It took me years to research and write a 150 page book by staying up until 2AM and using up weekends and vacations traveling to archives and reading microfilm. I know this is a stupid point to make, but I can't get over it.
 

Pat Young

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I can't figure out how these professors with full-time teaching jobs churn out these heavily researched, massive 900 page books every few years. It took me years to research and write a 150 page book by staying up until 2AM and using up weekends and vacations traveling to archives and reading microfilm. I know this is a stupid point to make, but I can't get over it.
He has been working on it for years. I saw him at a conference a few years ago and he was talking to other historians about "Fred" as though he was his cousin. I asked someone about the seemingly strange familiarity Blight displayed and the person laughed and said that Blight was "living with Frederick Douglass." The other person I heard speak in a similar way was Bruce Catton. "Oh Bruce" he said about something he thought Catton was wrong about.
 

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Part 41:

Douglass famously worried that “If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to the blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?” He understood that reconciliation meant reconciliation among white people, to the possible exclusion of blacks from the body politic. The road forward was to be one reserved for whites only.

The Gilded Age was the era of the restoration of white supremacy in the South.

As the nightmare of "Redemption" set in, Douglass began speaking more and more of Black self-reliance. He told white audiences, “If you see a negro wanting to purchase land, let him alone; let him purchase it. If you see him on the way to school, let him go; don’t say he shall not go into the same school with other people. . . . If you see him on his way to the workshop, let him alone; let him work; don’t say you will not work with him.”

Blight writes that this emphasis in his later speeches is sometimes twisted by modern conservatives into advocacy by Douglass for governmental non-intervention on behalf of African Americans. Blight writes:

“let alone” meant rule of law and social peace. It meant stop killing the freedmen and denying them access to civic life, make the revolution of emancipation real, enforce it by law, protect it in the courts, teach it in schools, keep the ballot box safe and free to defend that revolution, and reimagine government itself as the source and shield for a brave new economic world. “Let alone” and “fair play” demanded that whites open their minds and let blacks find their own place in equality before the law, announced in the Fourteenth Amendment. Douglass chose unfortunate passive words for a plan of social and political action. He knew this was a somewhat utopian vision. But he was in for the long haul, and he often prefaced any talk of his “let alone” theory with the sobering admission that slavery “did not die honestly.” It had died in all-out war, from necessity, not from enlightenment and morality alone. It had been crushed in blood, not merely legislated out of existence. Its ideology and habits, its racial assumptions, lived on in virulent forms. When those were crushed too, then, said Douglass to friend and foe, “you shall have peace.” (Kindle Locations 10941-10943).
 

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Part 42:

Douglass began delivering a speech, "The Self-Made Man," at venues around the country. Blight says that he appears to have carried it with him when he traveled in case he needed a ready speech. Douglass's self-made black man assumed that racial barriers were removed and reparation was made for slavery. Douglass said in his speech that the "nearest approach to justice to the negro for the past, is to do him justice in the present. Throw open to him the doors of the schools, the factories, the workshops, and all mechanical industries.” While he highlighted the achievements of a handful of blacks, he recognized that their success did not signal an end to racial disadvantage in America.

A thorough believer in the advance of capitalism, Douglass saw a large role for the Federal government in protecting the civil rights of blacks, insuring the education of the children of slaves, and countering efforts at voter suppression.
 

wausaubob

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The government was incapable of advancing this issue. It was left to subversives like Pullman to create a mode of black employment and philanthropists like Carnegie to endow black colleges. Douglass' influence was powerful.
 

Pat Young

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Part 43:

In 1876 Douglass was able to address the Republican National Convention. He joked to his audience that it was the first time he had been able to look the Republican Party in the face. After acknowledging the party's role in emancipation, Douglass said that the lack of government protection and aid had done irreparable harm to freedpeople. With an air of reproach he told them; “You turned us loose to the sky, to the storm . . . and, worst of all, you turned us loose to the wrath of our infuriated masters.” The slaves had not been given the land of their rebel masters, nor had they received adequate support to start a new life. They had not been protected from the violence of the returning Confederates intent on keeping blacks subservient to whites. He demanded that the party at least defend the limited gains blacks had made during Reconstruction.
 

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Part 44:

The election of Rutherford B. Hayes signaled the retreat from Reconstruction, but it also brought an honor to Douglass. Hayes named him the marshal for the District of Columbia. This was the first time in American history that a black man assumed an office requiring senate approval.

A marshal, Douglass visited his old slave quarters on the Eastern Shore. Blight writes:

He later called this homecoming “strange enough in itself,” but that he was about to meet his former master was “still more strange.” A messenger brought word that Auld had agreed to see him at the home of the old man’s daughter and son-in-law, Louisa and William H. Bruff. The gawking entourage followed him to the corner of Cherry Street and Locust Lane, where, as Dickson Preston, our best chronicler of Douglass’s returns to the Eastern Shore, wrote, “It was the
first time that a black man had ever entered a white home in St. Michaels by the front door, as an honored guest.”22 Auld was sick, bedridden, his hands “palsied,” as Douglass described him. The two men met for about twenty minutes in an emotional, humane encounter of past and present. Douglass thought he was witnessing Auld on his deathbed, although the former slaveowner would not die for two and a half more years. As autobiographer, Douglass re-created this drama with a customary vividness and irony. He entitled the chapter “Time Makes All Things Even”; he did not say time cures all ills, nor had he “begged” for Auld’s “forgiveness,” as the Baltimore Sun’s reporter claimed. But he may have revealed a deep yearning to heal his own soul, to find a purging of his scarred memory, to forgive in a way that helped him to finally declare publicly his survival and triumph. In much of Christian tradition—in which Douglass had learned to think and write—the forgiver often forgives for his own sake, not to excuse the oppressor. He forgives to strengthen his own heart, to work through grief, pain, loss, and hatred. Douglass had striven long and far and come to see that some self-understanding may rest at the end of the precept “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”
Blight, David W.. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Kindle Locations 11492-11494). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
 

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Part 45:

In 1879, Douglass opposed the growing Exoduster movement of blacks out of the South and toward Kansas and other places on the Great Plains. He seemed to view the flight of blacks as an admission that the struggle for equality in the former-Confederacy was over and defeat inevitable. Some of those heading west asked him if he was willing to live in the South now that White Supremacy had been reestablished.
 

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Part 46:

After Douglass's wife died, the country's most prominent black man took a new wife. The fact that he chose a white woman became a national sensation. Democrats were disgusted by a race-mixing marriage. Of course, many of his Southern white critics had engaged in race-mixing themselves. Douglass told a reporter that he did not act in love because of his race, but because of his heart.

Some African Americans worried that Douglass's choice would be seen as a rejection by Douglass of black women as mates. His new wife Helen faced ostracism from her family and social disgrace. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about this marriage.

Helen had known Douglass for two decades before they married. She was a lifelong supporter of racial equality and women's rights. During the Civil War, she taught freedpeople at a contraband camp in Virginia. Whatever others might have thought, Blight sees the marriage as a love match that offered comfort to each partner.
 

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Part 47:

Douglass would need Helen's support in the final years of his life. The last chapters of the book include the deaths of close family members and the upsurge in lynchings in the South. Douglass mourned both developments, but fought against the lynchings, enlisting in Ida B. Wells's anti-lynching campaign. Douglass in decline was still a powerful moral force among old Radicals. He also protested the exclusion of African American life from the Great Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and he gave a stage to the rising generation of black voices like poet Paul Dunbar.

When Douglass died of a heart attack at the age of 77 he was still fighting to preserve the legacy of the abolitionists, the victories of the Civil War, and the integrity of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
 

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Part 48:

Douglass in death was still viewed through the telescope of race. The New York Times attributed his "superior intelligence to his "white blood." An Upstate New York newspaper praised him as "almost white." That was apparently the greatest thing that could be said of a black man. The New Orleans Picayune described Douglass as a "half-breed." A Northern newspaper in an otherwise laudatory obituary, criticized his "unnatural" marriage to a white woman.

W.E.B. DuBois, a young intellectual at the time, told an audience that Douglass was a man of his race, but that he also “stood outside mere race lines . . . upon the broad basis of humanity.” Of how many other men born in the slave states during the early 19th Century could the same be said?
 
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