Friday, February 16, 2018

Frederick Douglass's Women:
Anna Murray Douglass
 
Anna Murray, the daughter of Barnbarra and Mary Murray, recently freed slaves from Denton in Caroline County, Maryland, might have been born in 1813.  As a young adult, she worked as a housekeeper and laundress for white people in Baltimore, Maryland.  In 1838 she met Frederick Washington Bailey, a ship caulker six years her junior, “through mutual friends at the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, an organization of free blacks who promoted literacy.”  Criticized later in life for being essentially illiterate, her involvement with the Improvement Society and the fact that Douglass was attracted to her augurs that “she had had some interest in self-improvement in her youth” (Fought 1).
 
Several months later Anna helped Frederick flee to New York City.  Anna sold many of her belongings to help Frederick purchase the train tickets for his escape. She also sewed the sailor uniform he wore as a disguise and accumulated the necessary items for starting a household. Once Frederick reached his destination in New York City, he wrote for her to join him. The Reverend James W. C. Pennington performed their marriage ceremony, and the young couple moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, first using the last name of Johnson but soon changing it to Douglass (Fought 1).
 
Their years living in New Bedford were apparently congenial.  Anna gave birth to four children -- Rosetta, Lewis Henry, Charles Remond, and Frederick Douglass Jr.  Frederick worked manual labor jobs while Anna kept house on a small budget.  Later, because Frederick had become an important member of and speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society, he and his family moved to Lynn, Massachusetts. While he toured nearby states delivering anti-slavery messages, Anna took in piecework from the local shoe factories.
 
Strain began to manifest in the Douglass marriage …. He spent a good deal of time away from home giving lectures, including two years in Europe. Most of his white associates expressed disdain for his wife, at their most generous referring to Anna as a poor intellectual match for her husband, and treated her like a servant in her own home.   They … focused on Anna’s illiteracy and stoicism to bolster their arguments. Anna, however, had little time for intellectual pursuits while running a household and raising a family with little help from her husband (Fought 1).

 She did take an active role in the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, however, “and later prevailed upon her husband to train their sons as typesetters for his abolitionist newspaper, the North Star” (Kentake 1).

By the late 1840s Anna had lost much of her emotional support.  Rosetta was away at school in Albany, New York.  Her friend and household helper, Harriet Bailey, had married and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. Rumors reached Anna that Frederick, touring England, was receiving lavish attention from female supporters. When he returned to America in 1847, Douglass moved the family to Rochester, New York, taking Anna away from the small, active Lynn black community of which she had been a part.

“Shortly thereafter she suffered the indignity of having the British reformer Julia Griffiths move into the Douglass home, which caused a storm of controversy alleging Frederick’s infidelity with Griffiths. The departure of Griffiths was followed by the arrival of Ottila Assing, who installed herself in the Douglass home for several months out of the year over the next twenty years.”  During these years Anna was forced to host “a string of white abolitionists who could barely conceal their disdain for her. Only the extended stays of Rosetta and her children and the companionship of Louisa Sprague, Rosetta’s sister-in-law who lived in the Douglass home as a housekeeper, relieved Anna’s loneliness” (Fought 2).

Anna did understand her husband’s role in fighting slavery and her role as helpmate. She took pride in her husband’s appearance and accomplishments and in keeping a well-ordered home. She continued to take an active part in operation of the household, even after Douglass had become wealthy enough to hire servants (Fought 2).

After the family moved to Rochester, New York, Anna established the Douglass home as a station on the Underground Railroad, providing food, board and clean linen for hundreds of fugitive slaves on their way to Canada. Her daughter Rosetta later wrote that it was not unusual for her mother to be called up at all hours of the night to prepare supper for a "hungry lot of fleeing humanity" (MacLean 1).

Douglass did appreciate the role that Anna played in his life. During his first visit to England he maintained a cordial distance from his enthusiastic female admirers, and he defended his wife when anyone suggested that she was not a fit mate for him. After his return home in 1847 Anna conceived their last child, Annie, and Douglass risked his own arrest to reenter the United States to comfort Anna in the wake of that child’s death ten years later.(Fought 2)

Anna suffered from various ailments – particularly headaches that made her ill -- for much of her life. In her later years she suffered from a stroke that confined her to a wheelchair and her bedroom. In August 1882 she died hours after suffering a second stroke.  Frederick fell into a lengthy depression that he described the darkest moment of his life.

Anna’s daughter Rosetta’s memoir – My Mother as I Recall Her – places Anna squarely within the nineteenth-century “cult of domesticity.” Rosetta used Anna as a symbol of the equality of black women within that sphere during an era in which black women were portrayed as either the sexually promiscuous “Jezebel” or the maternal caretaker “Mammy” of white families. On the other hand, not only did Anna actively support the end of slavery by aiding her husband’s flight to freedom and allowing him to pursue antislavery work but also she maintained an impeccable home and preserved her own dignity and that of her marriage in the face of white assault. In Rosetta’s narrative Anna emerges as a model of middle-class womanhood (Fought 3).

Rosetta observed: Her courage, her sympathy at the start was the main-spring that supported the career of Frederick Douglass. As is the condition of most wives her identity became merged into that of her husband. Thus only the few of their friends in the North really knew and appreciated the full value of the woman who presided over the Douglass home for forty-four years (MacLean 4).
 
Works cited:
Fought, Leigh. “Black History Month: Anna Murray Douglass.” Oxford African American Studies Center, Oxford University Press, February 20, 2007.  Net.  https://blog.oup.com/2007/02/black_history_m3/
 
Kentake, Meserette. “Anna Murray Douglass: His Story Was Made Possible Because of Her Love.”  Kentake Page: A Love Affair with Black History, August 4, 2015.  Net.  http://kentakepage.com/anna-murray-douglass-his-story-was-made-possible-because-of-her-love/
 
MacLean, Maggie. “ Anna Murray Douglass.”  History of American Women Blog, March 5, 2017.  Net.  http://www.womenhistory.blog/2017/03/anna-murray-douglass.html


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Frederick Douglass -- End of Life
 
On January 9, 1894, at the great Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, Douglass delivered what was to be his last great speech, “The Lessons of the Hour.”
 
“A white man has but to blacken his face and commit a crime, to have some negro lynched in his stead.  An abandoned woman has only to start to cry that she has been insulted by a black man, to have him arrested and summarily murdered by the mob.”
 
 Douglasss … introduced the idea that guilt was a motivating force, if not among lynchers, then among those who defended them.  He went on to attack the spurious literacy tests and the various other “obstacles and sinuosities” used to keep the black man from voting.  “That this is done,” he continued, “is not only admitted, but openly defended and justified by so-called honorable men inside and outside of Congress.” 
 
Turning to the character of the black man, Douglass cited the fact that when southern men had been away from their homes during the Civil War, there had been no rape of the women by the slaves left behind.  And then he got down to the heart of the matter-the utility of accusing a whole group of a propensity for rape to justify the practice of lynching as a means of social control.  He identified “three distinct periods of persecution,” each with its own excuse for violence.  “First you remember it was insurrection,” seen as a threat during slavery.  “When that was worn out, [the danger of] negro supremacy” was the excuse, during Reconstruction.  “When that is worn out, now it is assault upon defenseless women” that is seen as the threat justifying violence.  “Now, my friends, I ask what is the rational explanation of this singular omission of this charge [rape] in the two periods preceding the present?”  Answering his own question, Douglass said that the third accusation had not been necessary as long as the threat of insurrection or of negro supremacy could be invoked to justify severe measures of social control; now “altered times and circumstances have made necessary a sterner … justification of Southern barbarism.”
 
 
… “I have sometime thought that the American people were too great to be small.”  Now, he was not so sure: “I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.    He is a wiser man than I am, who can tell how low the moral sentiment of this republic may yet fall.  … The Supreme Court has surrendered.  … It has destroyed the civil rights bill, and converted the Republican party into a party of money rather than a party of morals.”
 
The idea of deporting his people received his greatest scorn.  …” The native land of the American negro is America.  His bones, his muscles, his sinews, are all American.  His ancestors for two hundred and seventy years have lived, and labored, and died on American soil, and millions of his posterity have inherited Caucasian blood.”  Shrewdly, he counted on the fact that the white South did not want to expel its workers: “The land owners of the South want the labor of the negro on the hardest possible terms,” terms including perpetual debt and a lien system by which “he is fastened to the land as by hooks of steel.”
 
“Words are things,” dangerous things, and the words “Negro Problem” were false, pernicious.  … This thinking had to end.  The problem was the nation’s problem; if it  could not be solved, the nation was doomed.  But, Douglass insisted, there was still a solution and he thundered forth a stream of correctives: “Let the white people of the North and South conquer their prejudices.  … Let the nation try justice and the problem will be solved.” …
 
… The speech was handsomely printed, with a fine photograph of the orator on the cover, and was much praised.  … It did absolutely no good (McFeely 377-381).
 
Douglass was as aware as anybody of the lengthening chain of his years, and presently he began to have premonitions.  This did not prevent him on February 20, 1895, from attending a Woman’s Council (Liberation) meeting at Metzerott Hall, and when he entered, the presiding officer, Mary Wright Sewall, promptly suspended business of the Council in order to allow Susan B. Anthony and the Reverend Anna H. Shaw to escort him to the platform as the membership rose spontaneously and, waving handkerchiefs, gave him a standing ovation.
 
He told Helen abut it at dinner that evening at Cedar Hill.  It was five o’clock, and they were not hurried because there was enough time to relax before his speaking engagement scheduled that evening at a local church.  When suddenly he rose from the table and turned toward the stairs, his wife thought he was about to dramatize the events of the afternoon, as he so often did, but she was petrified with shock when he bowed and began to sink lower and lower.
 
Later descriptions of the moment differ, but in one of them he is reported as saying, as he fell to his knees, “What is this?”  If he received an answer, he did not divulge it.  He never regained consciousness.  He was dead when the carriage arrived to take him to his speaking engagement (Bontemps 298-299).
 
On February 21, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, “Taking up the papers today, the first word that caught my eye thrilled my very soul.  Frederick Douglass is dead!”  … She recalled his “burning eloquence” before a Boston anti-slavery meeting when “with wit, satire, and indignation he graphically described the bitterness of slavery and the humiliation of subjection to those who, in all human virtues and powers, were inferior to himself.”  It was the first time she had seen Douglass: “Around him sat the great antislavery orators of the day, earnestly watching the effect of his eloquence on that immense audience, that laughed and wept by turns, completely carried away by the wondrous gifts of his pathos and humor.  … all the other speakers seemed tame after Frederick Douglass.”  He “stood there like an African prince, majestic in his wrath” (McFeely 382-383).
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Frederick Douglass -- Activist Fervor Revived
 
At two-thirty at Festival Hall, before a throng of respectable black citizens, Frederick Douglass rose to speak.  He had before him a paper, “The Race Problem in America,” which he intended to read.  The black poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, later described what happened.
 
Suddenly he was interrupted by “jeers and catcalls” from white men in the rear of the crowd.  In the August heat, the old man tried to go on, but the mocking persisted; his hand shook.  Painfully, … the great orator’s voice “faltered.”  Then, … the old abolitionist threw his papers down, parked his glasses on them, and eyes flashing, pushed his hand through his great mane of white hair.  Then he spoke: “Full, rich and deep came the sonorous tones, compelling attention, drowning out the catcalls …. “Men talk of the Negro problem,” Douglass roared.  “There is no Negro problem.  The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution.”  On he went for an hour: “We Negroes love our country.  We fought for it.  We ask only that we be treated as well as those who fought against it.”  The applause when he stopped was the welcome thunder of old times. 
 
After reading about the speech in the newspaper, Ida Wells hurried to the fair and “begged his pardon for presuming in my youth and inexperience to criticize him.  … Now she declared that his speech “had done more to bring our cause to the attention of the American people than anything else which had happened during the fair.”
 
The land in which Douglass now spoke his mind was not the one he had worked so hard to achieve.  He and all of black America had long known about the monstrous happenings in the South-the terrorism, culminating in lynchings -and the refusal of the federal government to do anything effective about them; black Americans knew that white America was deflecting its guilt by seeing them as comic figures; that so-called scientific thought was consigning them to a lower position on the evolutionary scale.  What black America had not previously experienced was the humiliation of seeing these attitudes and beliefs all together, on display at a vast celebration of “progress” spread out before the whole world (McFeely 371-372).
 
Yet Ida Wells and Frederick Douglass, together, and Wells long after Douglass’s death, never stopped defying the injustice placed upon their race.  The following is a personal example, of minor importance but significant symbolically, of their uncompromising nature.
 
… One day as the fair was winding down, Douglass invited Wells to join him for lunch.  Asked where they should go, she said there was a nice place across the street but, she told him, they did not serve colored people.  “Mr. Douglass, in his vigorous way, grasped my arm and said, “Come, let’s go there.’”  She said she was game and they “sauntered into the Boston Oyster House as if it were an everyday occurrence, cocked and primed for the fight if necessary.”  Douglass strode to a table, held a chair for Wells, and took his seat, as “paralyzed” waiters looked on-and gave no sign of coming over with a menu.  A classic standoff seemed in the making until the proprietor, recognizing Douglass, came over and greeted him.  From then on, waiters hovered, while the proprietor kept up nonstop reminiscences of a visit Douglass had once made in his hometown.  “When he finally went to another part of the room,” Wells recalled, “Mr. Douglass turned to me with a roguish look and said, ‘Ida, I thought you said that they didn’t serve us here.  It seems we are getting more attention than we want’” (McFeely 376).
 
If Frederick Douglass left a legacy for the twentieth century, no one bore it forward with more fervor or grace than she. 
 
Early in her life, Ida Wells may have been inspired by Frederick Douglass, but he, near the end of his, was driven back into the fray by Wells.   On January 9, 1894, at the great Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, Douglass delivered what was to be his last great speech, “The Lessons of the hour.”
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Frederick Douglass -- At the Fair
 
Douglass would not be rewarded for his work in Haiti by his own government; ironically, by the Haitian government he was.  In February 1892 President Hyppolite appointed Douglass his country’s commissioner at the World’s Columbian Exposition (the first World’s Fair) in Chicago, and in April of the following year Douglass and his wife took up their residence there.  Douglass’s duties were minimal.  His function would be advisory, he had been assured.  Someone else would deal with clerical duties.  Douglass hoped that the fair would express something positive about the accomplishments of black people both in Haiti and in the United States.  At the dedication of the Haitian Pavilion, Douglass spoke dutifully about the beauty of the setting of the fair, at the shoreline of Lake Michigan, and invited visitors to enjoy “a generous taste of our Haitian coffee, made in the best manner by Haitian hands” (Bontemps 296).  He was there to draw visitors and publicize Haitian commerce and culture; but, because he was there and because of who he still was, he was drawn into the strong discontent that young black leaders felt about the Fair’s exclusion of Negro American achievements.
 
All classes and conditions of the world’s people were represented, blacks stated, except that of the American Negro.  They petitioned Congress to rectify their lack of representation, and their petition was essentially ignored.  Subsequently, Ida B. Wells, Douglass’s young black associate, wrote an eighty-one page pamphlet entitled “The Reason Why the Colored Man Is Not Represented in the World’s Columbian Exposition.”  To defuse the growing discontent fostered by the pamphlet and the fact that few blacks had been employed at the Fair and none had been included in its planning, managers of the Fair designated August 25, 1893, as “Colored American Day.”  Black contributions to American life and culture would be displayed on this day, they promised.  Most black Americans suspected that the day would be used by whites instead for ridicule.  Ida Wells wanted Douglass not to participate.
 
Douglass first became aware of the thirty-year-old Miss Wells from a newspaper article she wrote about a triple lynching that had occurred in Memphis, Tennessee.
 
This daughter of slaves, who had been an eager student at Rust University, wrote fearlessly of the killing of three male friends; they had been lynched, she asserted categorically, not for raping white women, as alleged, but for competing with white storekeepers.  While she was in Philadelphia in May, speaking at protest meetings, her neighbors destroyed the office and plant of the newspaper [the Memphis Free Speech], in which she owned a one-third interest.
 
Even before the Memphis paper was silenced, the editor of the North American Review asked Douglass to write on the subject, and “Lynch Law in the South” appeared in the July 1892 issue. 
 
“… there is good reason to question these lynch-law reports.  … The crime imputed to the negro is one most easily imputed and most difficult to disprove, and yet it is the one the negro is least likely to commit.”  There had been, he pointed out, not rapes reported during the Civil War, when white women were often alone with their slaves.  Turning to the case about which Wells had written, he noted that just as the “Jew is hated in Russia, because he is thrifty,” so the “negro meets no resistance when on a downward course.  It is only when he rises in wealth, intelligence, and manly character that he brings upon himself the heavy hand of persecution.  The men lynched at Memphis were murdered because they were prosperous.”  Inquiring into what lay behind the summary killings, Douglass shrewdly observed that “responsibility for the lynch law … is not entirely with the ignorant mob … they simply obey … sentiment created by wealth and respectability.”
 
 
While Douglass was writing, Wells had a fiery piece in the June press, a seven-column article in the New York Age “giving names, dates, and places.”  Douglass, in New York, came to call on the brash new editor and writer to tell her “what a revelation of existing conditions” her writing had been for him.  Distanced as he was, he “had begun to believe it true that there was increased lasciviousness on the part of Negroes.”  Now he wrote her a letter-which appeared as a preface to her 1892 pamphlet Southern Horrors. “Brave Woman!  You have done your people and mine a service which can neither be weighed nor measured.  If the American conscience were only half alive … a scream of horror, shame and indignation would rise to Heaven. …” (McFeely 360-362)
 
Shortly afterward, Wells visited Cedar Hill.  By the time she and Douglass settled down to work together in Chicago, he was ready spiritually and emotionally to speak out again in behalf of his people.
 
Wells and Douglass both wanted the world to know how black people were fairing in American.  With his help, she wrote a pamphlet that described both the accomplishments of their race and their condition, plagued by lynchings.
 
As August 25th neared, comments from whites that there might not be enough watermelons available to feed the duskies that would pass through the Fair’s gates foretold how the white press viewed the significance of black culture.  Despite Wells’s objections, Douglass eventually agreed to be the concluding speaker of the day’s celebration, but only after several black musicians pleaded with him to help dignify the proceedings.  They, and Douglass’s own grandson, James Douglass, a concert violinist, wished to display their accomplished skills.
 
When Douglass arrived on the grounds August 25, he saw immediately that the day was indeed intended to be a joke.  Watermelon vendors were in abundance. Puck Magazine’s cartoon entitled “Darkies’ Day at the Fair” had “fat-bellied, barefoot spear carriers in grass skirts and thick-lipped, ornately uniformed soldiers lined up to buy their watermelon from a checked-pants sharpster with his top hat atilt” (McFeely 370).
 
At two-thirty at Festival Hall, before a throng of respectable black citizens, Frederick Douglass rose to speak.  He held before him a paper, “The Race Problem in America,” which he intended to read.  The black poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, later described what happened.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Frederick Douglass -- Serving in Haiti
 
The Republican Party won back the Presidency in 1888.  Douglass had campaigned for Benjamin Harrison and now wanted another government job.  A cabinet position was something that Douglass could dream about but he was willing to settle for his old job, recorder of deeds.  The position, ironically, went to Blanche K. Bruce, former black senator from Mississippi and a witness to Douglass’s marriage.  Douglass waited three months for a government appointment, all the while ignoring the advice of friends not to antagonize the new President by urging Harrison to bring back federal protection of the lives of Negroes in the South and of their right to vote.  In June 1889 Douglass was offered the ministry to Haiti.  Despite advice from friends, he accepted.
 
Two black generals, Francois D. Legitime and Florvil Hyppolite, had directed a revolution in 1888 that had removed Haiti’s president.  With naval and military aid provided by the American navy, Hyppolite then removed Legitime and his supporters from the island, and, as the new Haiti president, it was Hyppolite who received Douglass’s credentials in November of 1889.
 
The Harrison administration wanted something back for the helpfulness.  They wanted Mole St. Nicholas, an excellent harbor on the extreme northwestern tip of Haiti.  The location would then become the primary United States naval station in the Caribbean.
 
Always vulnerable, independent Haiti was now under the particularly avaricious eyes of white powers seeking bases for their growing navies-bases that in the Caribbean would support them in their rivalry to build a canal across the Central American isthmus.  Other Caribbean islands, among them Spain’s Cuba and the British West Indies, already belonged to competing European empires.  … They [the Haitians] knew that as a black republic their nation was viewed with much contempt and that it was judged fair prey by those wishing to annex part or all of it (McFeely 336).
 
Likely, Douglass had received his assignment to mollify the suspicions of Haitians, who were well familiar with his past history.  Douglass, himself, revered Haiti.  He believed that its people were a singular example of what all black people could accomplish, unhindered by white persecution.  Douglass, although in favor of acquiring the Haitian harbor for the navy’s use, well understood Haitian cynicism and performed his tasks openly and honestly, despite the arrogant words and threatening manner of an American admiral, who was assigned to work with Douglass in their negotiations to obtain a lease of the harbor.  Their efforts failed, and the administration abandoned the project in the late summer of 1891.  The expansionists of the administration had now focused their desire upon Hawaii, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.  President Harrison had never been more than luke warm about acquiring a Haitian harbor.
 
Critics in the press inaccurately accused Douglass ob being the main reason for his administration’s failure to obtain the harbor.  New York newspapers demanded and predicted that he would be fired.  On June 30 Douglass submitted his resignation, but not because of the criticism.  Both his own health and that of Helen had suffered from the climate.
 
Douglass defended himself six months later in the North American Review.  “A man must defend himself,” he wrote, “if only to demonstrate his fitness to defend anything else.”
 
… To be sure, he had had enough of Haiti, but his pride had been hurt, and, worse, his loyalty to his country had been challenged.  … He contended … that he had had no orders to try to secure it [the harbor] during his first year in Haiti and therefore could not be charged with delay in the months immediately following Hyppolite”s assumption of power.  Discussing the negotiations that did take place, Douglass was candid in suggesting that Admiral Gherardi had been condescending and hence insulting to Antenor Firmin, Haiti’s secretary of state.  [After the article appeared, Firmin, from exile in Paris, wrote Douglass that his resignation was a great loss to both Haiti and the United States] McFeely 356-357).
 
This was Douglass’s last government position.
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Frederick Douglass -- Second Marriage
 
On August 4, 1882, Anna Murray Douglass died, following a month’s struggle to survive a severe stroke, her left side useless, but her mind and her speech clear.  She was buried in Rochester, by the graves of two children.
 
Douglass’s grief was deep.  For quite some time he was absent from Washington, at the homes of supporting friends in New York and in Maine.  When he returned to his duties, he began to speak in lecture halls again and at convention lecterns, with moderation, but also with pointed criticism.
 
Negroes lived “among a people whose laws, traditions, and prejudices have been against us for centuries, and from these they are not yet free.  … Though the colored man is no longer subject to be caught and sold, he is still surrounded by an adverse sentiment which fetters all his movements.  … He is rejected by trade unions … and refused work where he lives, and burial where he dies.”  Douglass still clung to the notion that the Republican Party, chastened, could be counted upon.  He opposed the desire of many of his race to support a third political party, for doing so, Douglass insisted, would only help the hated Southern Democrats.  On October 15, 1883, the Supreme Court, including eight of nine Republican judges, in a decision that, in Douglass’s words, “came upon the country like a clap of thunder,” removed “the rights of colored citizens as those rights are defined by the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution.”  According to the Court, only the state legislatures, not the United States Congress, had jurisdiction over a person’s rights.  “Seven millions of the people of this country,” Douglass would say in a speech soon afterward, were “naked and defenceless” against “malignant, vulgar, and pitiless prejudice.”  He predicted that “far down the ages” the Court’s decision would be reversed (McFeely 315, 317, 318).  [Federal legislation reversed the discriminatory policies of the Southern states eighty-one years later with the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]
 
Less than a year and a half after Anna’s death, on a cold January evening [the 24th] in 1884, Douglass and his secretary, driving in Douglass’s carriage behind magnificent while horses, were joined by the Senator from Mississippi, Blanche K. Bruce, and Mrs. Bruce.  Douglass directed his coachman to the home of a prominent Negro clergyman.  A personal friend of Douglass’s, the minister was nevertheless surprised by his late callers.  He sent word downstairs for them to wait.  A few moments later, upon request of those concerned, the Reverend Mr. Francis J. Grimke joined Frederick Douglass and Helen Pitts in marriage, the Bruces witnessing.
 
… A hurricane of outraged letters hit Cedar Hill.  Negroes and whites seemed equally offended.  The venerable Douglass, white-haired and sixty-two, should not have married again at all, some thought.  Others shouted that Negro womanhood had been disparaged by the implications of his choice.  Could he not find … a colored woman good enough for him?  In the South, of course, criticism found its most picturesque expression.  Douglass was a “lecherous old African Solomon” in the eyes of the Franklin, Virginia, Gazette.
 
Douglass’s own children joined in the howl.  How could he do this to them—and without consultation?  … Douglass watched the whole demonstration with a twinkle in his eye.
 
He showed his amusement by keeping a scrapbook of the opprobrium heaped upon him and his white wife.  When confronting interviewers, he slyly observed that in his first marriage he had paid his respects to his black mother, in his second to his white father.  “Love came to me,” Helen crooned when questioned, “and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color.”  For the resentment of his children Douglass was prepared, and his retort was neither witty nor pleasant.  There wasn’t one of them who wasn’t at least partially dependent on him for support.  They swallowed hard and crept away.
 
Douglass and Helen began playing croquet on the lawns of Cedar Hill.  The place was quieter now.  His health was wonderful.  Douglass actually began to feel young again.  … None of his close friends, he discovered, had actually turned their back on him and Helen (Bontemps 175-177).
 
A Democrat President, Grover Cleveland, took occupancy of the White House in 1885.  Douglass presumed that his office, recorder of deeds, would be immediately given to a Democrat supporter; however, it was not until January of 1886 that Cleveland requested that Douglass resign.  Additionally, Cleveland, during the tenure of his office, unlike his Republican predecessors, extended to Douglass, and the ladies of his family, invitations to his large, official receptions.  Douglass and his new wife attended, without embarrassment.
 
Free from governmental responsibility, Douglass took his wife to Europe and leisurely toured the continent as far east as Greece; and, with aid, the seventy-year-old man climbed atop the great pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.  While in England, he and Helen had enjoyed the hospitality of the widowed Julia Griffiths-Crofts, whom Douglass had not seen for thirty-two years.  They did not, they could not visit Ottilia Assing.
 
On August 21, 1884, [almost seven months after Frederick and Helen’s marriage] Ottilia Assing dressed carefully in a monogrammed blouse and skirt, put on her hat, dropped her key, a brooch with a picture inside, and a bit of money into her red leather wallet, and left her Paris hotel.  Walking in the Bois de Boulogne, she stopped to pick a leaf from an oak tree and carefully put it into her purse; shortly, from that same purse, she took out a container of poison and swallowed its contents (McFeely 322).
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Marking Time
 
As before, in 1880 Frederick Douglass urged black voters to elect the Republican Presidential candidate, James A. Garfield, another Civil War general from Ohio.  Douglass’s last duty as Marshall was to lead the newly elected President’s inaugural procession through the rotunda of the Capitol.  Afterward, as before, Douglass’s services were largely ignored.
 
He had let the president-elect know that he was willing to serve in a more important capacity.  He had written Garfield that “colored people of this country want office not as the price of their votes … but for their recognition as a part of the American people” (McFeely 305).  Samuel Clemons, the Mark Twain of soon-to-be-published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, wrote Garfield that Douglass was a friend of his and deserved such recognition.  However, Garfield appointed a personal friend to Douglass’s former position and offered Douglass a position not more but less important, recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia.  Again, Douglass accepted, and minimized the slight, saying that the job more suited his tastes.
 
The job did permit him to fill clerical jobs with black civil servants, including two of his sons, Frederick, Jr. and Lewis, and his daughter Rosetta. After Garfield’s death in the fall of 1881, Douglass’s authority to fill positions was severely curtailed by the new President, Chester A. Arthur.  Douglass could not help, for instance, Amanda Auld Sear’s widower, John Sears, who had for “the first time since the War of the Rebellion” been forced to seek help getting “a place where I can earn a living for myself and family.”  Douglass knew that if he approached the President to ask a favor for a friend, he would be with absolute certainty “snubbed at the White House” (McFeely 306).
 
He was not snubbed, however, by the grandchildren of Colonel Edward Lloyd when he traveled again to Talbot County to revive his boyhood memories of Wye House.  They greeted him graciously, perhaps with genuine affection, and he felt none of the bitterness that had caused him many times in the past to condemn the plantation slave master.  With nostalgia he observed what still remained and what had changed.
 
Aaron Anthony’s square, sturdy brick house was still there, on Long Green; the closet Frederic had slept in had been incorporated into the kitchen, and its dirt floor “had disappeared under plank.”  Gone too was the memory of Hester being whipped in that kitchen; similarly, all he said now about the brutal overseer Austin Gore was that his house still stood.  So did “old Barney’s stable, and the wonderful carriage house ….”  And there was the great barn where a little child had once watched swallows ceaselessly sweeping the air.
 
The poplars that the red-winged blackbirds had favored were gone, but not the oaks and elms whose shade had cloaked Daniel Lloyd and Frederick Bailey, eating the food the young lord had brought from his kitchen to compensate for the meagerness of Aunt Katy’s fare.  And in the graveyard, crowded now with two hundred years of Lloyds, lay “Mr. Page, a teacher in the family, whom I had often seen and wondered what he could be thinking about as he silently paced up and down the garden walks” (McFeely 308).
 
In 1882 he hired a new clerk, Helen Pitts, the niece of Hiram Pitts, whose house was adjacent to Douglass’s Cedar Hill house.  Helen had been born in 1838 in a farming community about forty miles south of Rochester, New York.  Her father and mother had been abolitionists, the father having met Douglass once during his lecture tours in the 1840’s.  Helen was well educated and active in the women’s rights movement in Washington, a collaborator in the publication of a radical feminist newspaper.  Positions for women had been made available in the expanded government agencies after the Civil War; and Helen, a former teacher, unlikely to find a post equal to her ability and being single, having to support herself, had taken work in the pension office.  Later, when a position in the recorder’s office became available, she applied for it and was accepted.  Douglass and Helen met as neighbors, and continued to meet with greater frequently as she worked for him in the capitol, so well that he could trust her to run things while he was frequently absent.  Also, she and other women would meet a Cedar Hill, in the cause of women’s suffrage, which Douglass had always supported.  Helen Pitts would soon become his second wife.
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.