Frederick Douglass: American
February 28, 2011

A Truly Great American With a Life that Stands on Its Own

Dr. Woodson Ultimately Is Responsible for Black History Month and Started It Partly With Douglass In Mind

Black History Month:  Some time ago, February was designated as Black History Month.   I have mixed emotions about that particular designation.  I think it’s always a good thing to focus attention on history, particularly American history since so many Americans really don’t know a lot about their nation.  I suppose the whole idea rose from the notion that the school system in this country didn’t really mention much about African-Americans except in the context of slavery.  However, I have a problem with a focus on a particular group of Americans. I am not saying that it’s wrong to have such a month; I guess I really think that its too bad that it was a necessity.  You see,  those individuals who are discussed in February are part of American history and I believe that they should be seen simply as Americans because all citizens, past and present are, in my view, my American brother and sister and my fellow American.  Race, religion or ethnicity does not add or dimish their position as an American.  Another thing that bothers me is the a grand oversight.  I’ve gone to some Black History Month presentations and they always quite properly include Dr. Martin Luther  King, Jr.  Sometimes they talk about the contributions of George Washington Carver at the events of which I have attended.  Typically following the discussion of such well-known luminaries, they go off into some modern rappers or sports stars.  If it’s a good presentation, then it will rightfully include Jackie Robinson, but Mr. Robinson sometimes loses out to other Americans whose acheivements really don’t measure up to that of Robinson or Carver and certainly not even in the same neighborhood as Dr. King.  But, almost every time, they leave out someone whom I believe to be one of the most important Americans in our history.  His name is Frederick Douglass and all Americans should know about the man.

Slave Cabin probably not unlike one Douglass shared with his grandmother for a few short years

Even though Douglass often is left out of the Black History month discussion, his life was actually part of the reason why February has the designation.  The foundation of Black History Month dates back to the 1920’s when a Harvard doctoral graduate and former slave chose the month of focus since both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born in February and Douglass also died then as well.  Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in February 1818.    Douglass often suggested that his mother, Harriet Bailey, conceived Douglass following the advances of white man who was not his mother’s husband.  It may be for that reason that Douglass did not live with his mother but instead was put in the cabin of his grandmother Besty Bailey by owner, Captain Aaron Anthony.  Even though he lived with his grandmother, it didn’t take long for Douglass to be hired out and so his familial ties were not strong.  In 1826, he went to Baltimore to work and live in the household of Hugh and Sophia Auld.  Sophia was Capt Anthony’s daughter and Douglass lived with the couple for 7 years from 1826 to 1833.  During that time, he watched the Auld’s young son and also was taught to read and write by Sophia…that is until Hugh told her to stop.  But, the seeds were already sewn.

Frederick Douglass Broke the Chains and Headed into History

Douglass continued to teach himself to read and write on his own.   He secretly helped organized schools for slaves.  He resisted his position as a slave.  He tried to escape and was imprisoned for awhile and was sent to a plantation where slaves who needed to be “broken” were sent.  But, he never bowed.  In 1838, he broke his bonds and escaped to New York.  He got married and had children.  He fell in with abolitionists.  He had read books related to oratory and taught himself to make public speeches.  At the age of 23, he gave a speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention and caught the attention of many abolitionists included renown abolitionist William Garrison.  Now, Douglass given name was really Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey but he realized that if he were to go on the speaking circuit, then he’d have to change his name to Frederick Douglass.  Afterall, he was officially a fugitive slave and could be returned to slavery.  So, he adopted the last name of Douglass. 

Click on Image For Information Regarding Book that details relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass

On two occasions, Douglass fled to Europe to avoid recapture.  On one of his trips, sympathetic Europeans who heard Douglass speak raised money and bought his freedom.  By the time of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass finally was safe in the land of the free and home of the brave.  His autobiography that detailed his life in slavery was a huge hit and the words  he wrote and the words he spoke were significant contributors to the ultimate destruction of slavery.  Not only for the general public, but also for President Abraham Lincoln who consulted with Douglass regarding Lincoln’s policies and thoughts concerning slavery and the emancipation issue.  That included an idea Lincoln had about creating a colony in South America where freed  slaves could live.  Lincoln for a time had  the notion that Blacks and Whites were never intended to live together nor was it possible.  While he did  not believe in equality of the races, Lincoln also felt it was morally wrong for take what was earned from “the sweat of another man’s brow.”  Douglass impressed him as a tremendous mind and thinker and also took into consideration Douglass’ admonition that America was as much his country as it was the President’s.  Remember, Lincoln was born in the country just 9 years prior to Douglass.  Lincoln knew that Douglass had a very good and strong point.

Douglass' marriage to Helen (sitting) Was Not Popular with White or Black late 19th century America

Frederick Douglass was a proud man.  He was a tough man.  He was a smart, self taught man and great thinker.  He was bold and fearless.  Not only did he contribute to the rights of  Blacks, he also lent his name and effort to the equality of women.  He even was on the ticket for an early feminist presidential candidate.  Age did not diminish his courage though.  After his first wife died, he married a white, feminist woman and that, he said, brought condemnation and scorn from both Blacks and Whites alike.  His story is absolutely remarkable and one that every American should know and be proud to be able to say that Frederick Douglass was our American brother.  So, as Black History month comes to a close  just remember that the legacy and life of a great American, Frederick Douglass,  deserves as much recognition and acknowledgement as any American.  In my view, there is no other adjective beside “American” is needed to describe Frederick Douglass.  As he did in life, he can stand on his own for  the ages.

A Lay For Quakers Before Becoming Abolitionists
February 3, 2010

Benjamin Lay: the proverbial mouse that roared

On This Date in History:  Benjamin Lay was born in England in 1682.  He was small in stature standing just 4’7″.  But, he found himself unwelcome in his native land “for some extravagances in conduct and language.”  He was disowned and decided to go into self exile.  If you’re going to exile yourself, it’s probably not going to be to some Arctic hideaway but instead some tropical paradise.  So, off to the West Indies he went in 1730.

Ben Franklin printed Lay's protests in 1737, but did not attach his own name

But, the fun in the sun didn’t last long due to the long shadow of slavery.   Perhaps due to the fact that he had been outcast and rejected by society or perhaps from a strong moral compass, Lay became quite moved by the plight of the slaves who were treated with great cruelty and indifference.  He became quite outspoken in his denunciation of the slave trade and, most probably, slave holders and slave traders.  His outspoken nature resulted in his being “compelled” to leave the islands.  So, a year after he arrived in the West Indies he left and went to the town that sounded welcoming; Philadelphia.  Ah yes…Philadelphia…the city of brotherly love.  Much to his chagrin, he found that slavery was alive and well there too.   He was a Quaker and was shocked to find that his fellow Quakers in Philadelphia condoned the brutish practice.   So, he did what he id best; he took his wife and went into exile.  I suppose he must have felt as if he had nowhere left to exile himself so he took the little lady to a cave outside of town where he set up a base of operations.

Whittier Was an Early Lay Supporter

While he lived away from people he regularly wandered into town to shake up the locals.  John Greenleaf Whittier wrote in The Journal of John Woolman that Benjamin Lay would visit the local Friend’s Meeting Houses,  which is where the Religious Society of Friends(Quakers) meet,  just to chastise and annoy those in attendance.  On one occasion, the small man with a hunched back and sticklike legs, wrapped in a white overcoat approached in a time of silence in the assembly and exclaimed, “You slaveholders!  Why don’t you throw off your Quaker coast as I do mine and show yourselves as you are?”  As he shouted, he tossed off his coat and revealed a military coat with a sword so long that it dangled close to his heels.  The audience was shocked when he drew his sword with one hand as he clutched a bible in the other and said, “In the sight of God, you are as guilty as if you stabbed your slaves to th heart, as I do this book!”  At that point, he thrust he sabre into the Good Book.  Secretly, he had hidden a small bladder filled with the juice of a poke-weed and so when he stabbed the Bible, what appeared to be fresh blood flowed as he sprinkled those who sat nearby him. 

Quaker Piety Did Not Extend Officially to Slaves Until Lay Had Spent His Entire Life Pointing Out Their Error

Quakers were known for their outspokeness and to be sure, there were many who had concerns regarding slavery, though their protests were largely muted.  However, Benjamin Lay was pretty radical and was a catalyst who awakened them from thier slumber.  While no one thinks that his outlandish antics created a revolution, he is credited with sparking the conscience of men with an educated reason and softening hearts.  They, in turn, would push for change.  One of those Quakers who changed his tune was none other than the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier whose work probably helped to preserve the memory of Benjamin Lay.  He called Lay the community’s “pertinacious gad-fly on the sore places of its conscience.”    Lay died on this date in 1759 at the age of 82.  But he died a happy man.  He had made a difference because the year before his death, at the annual meeting of Friends, the Quakers passed a resolution that denounced and condemned slavery and the slave trade.  Lay and his wife had lived in exile in his cave where on occasion, he entertained guests.  His most famous cave guest was none other than Benjamin Franklin, who undoubtedly had one of the most learned and reasoned mines in all of the colonies.  And it was the men of Franklin’s stature who did not allow the Lay’s physical stature to blind them from the enormity and power of his words.

NAM most bullish for snow this weekend with nearly 3 inches after Friday rain

Weather Bottom Line:   We have a rather interesting week or so ahead with the potential for a big story down the road.  First is the system coming across for the weekend.  I suppose one could say that there are two lows that will be converging over the area Friday and Saturday.  I’ve been calling one the upper level portion but it may have some surface characteristics.  Nevertheless, either way the results are the same.  The low to the south approaches and brings us rain.  As it’s doing so, the one from the north drops down over the Ohio Valley and that will serve to drag down cold air that will turn the rain over to snow on Friday night and continue into Saturday.  This season, the NAM has been the least bullish on snow but this time, its calling for nearly 3 inches while the GFS is advertising less than 2.  If we are above freezing on Saturday it will be sometime after midnight and I suspect that we will be in the 20’s for much of the daytime hours on Saturday.  Regardless of the amounts, it’s the weekend so it won’t be too much of an issue except for Saturday morning travel as snow falling onto rain wetted streets with temperatures falling below freezing will present some icing issues no doubt.  Because it will be raining first, they will not be able to pre-treat the roads… so no “brine solution” stories this weekend.

Now, the potential big guy comes on Tues and Wed and maybe into Thursday.  There is some agreement that there will be a system moving west to east to our south.  Most data indicates that we will be cold enough for snow and that moisture will be tossed over that cold air from the south.  The Canadian model has the low farthest north and all models indicate a decent snow.  But, right now, the GFS is advertising over 8 inches of snow from late Tuesday through Thursday.   Around here, that is an issue and, while I don’t have the breakdown on the numbers from the Canadians or the Europeans, both of those seem to indicate something more robust than the GFS.  It’s a week away so things can change.  But I am seeing a reasonable consistency and there is current data that shows a good snow, so keep that in mind and at least have some preliminary plans in case it actually does come to fruition.  Guess from my perspective at this point is that there is a better than fair chance we get our biggest snow of the season.