Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Frederick Douglass's Women
Helen Pitts Douglass
Over a century ago, one of Central New York’s most famous African-American civil rights advocates entered into what many considered an unholy union. On Jan. 24, 1884, 60-year old Frederick Douglass and 46-year-old Helen Pitts defied the expectations of their families and Washington society by joining in interracial matrimony.

Neither black nor white communities offered many congratulations.
The Washington Grit called the marriage “a national calamity” and “the mistake of his life.” Others considered his choice to be that of a dotty, old man who had rejected his race. The groom’s children never hid their disdain for his new wife, believing the marriage betrayed their late mother, Anna, who was black. His daughter-in-law even sued him. The bride’s sisters and mothers embraced her new husband, but her father and uncle never accepted that a black man they once admired had joined the family. One of her old classmates at Mt. Holyoke simply exclaimed, “How could she?”
True friends, on the other hand, noted that the marriage was not only one of affection but also one that emerged from their principles. Another old classmate insisted that Helen “was true to her convictions to the last,” while a reporter for the Indianapolis Leader pointed out, “Mr. Douglass has simply put into practice the theories of his life.” Douglass himself demanded, “What business has the world with the color of my wife” (Fought 1)?
However revolutionary the act of marrying across racial lines was at the time, Helen was a product of her upbringing. She grew up in Honeoye, in upstate New York, a hamlet in what is now called Richmond. Her grandfather founded the village (originally called Pittstown) after fighting in the American Revolution.

Helen herself was a ninth- or tenth-generation descendant of six Mayflower passengers who formed a long line of maverick minds. Her kin included powerful political, literary, and religious figures who inspired and influenced thought and action. From one family branch her presidential relations included John Adams and John Quincy Adams and from another Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Rutherford B. Hayes. Other distant cousins included William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Henry David Thoreau.
By 1838, the year Helen was born, the influential religious leadership in Honeoye preached that slavery must be abolished and that congregants must join the fight. In the eyes of their minister true Christians actively resisted slavery, and the Pitts family did so avidly. Reform-minded politics led Helen’s father, Gideon, to invite a prominent anti-slavery speaker to Honeoye in 1846. Helen was eight years old when Frederick Douglass first came to the town, captivating audiences with his booming voice and obvious intellect. On that occasion, and for decades beyond, Douglass was an honored guest in the Pitts family home.
Years later Helen would doubtless have known her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Pitts mansion, located smack in the middle of Main Street, was an important link between the towns of Naples and Avon, a way station that Douglass had helped Gideon Pitts establish. Over a decade, the Pitts family hid in their cellar runaway slaves transported via a false-bottom hearse from a Naples undertaker. By some accounts, more than six hundred former slaves traveled through the Pitts’ basement passageway (Hansen 1).
Helen entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 1857.  She graduated in 1859.  She was among a growing number of young women from all over New England who were leaving home for a seminary education, a move that the feminist-leaning Pitts family greatly encouraged.”  It was “a unique place for young women to pursue their studies of languages, literature, philosophy, and science, and participate in discussions with other intelligent women” (Hansen 2). Long before she arrived, the sermons and speeches of Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) were read and hotly discussed.  On July 4, 1854, following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened the territories for the spread of slavery, students at the seminary, demonstrating their opposition, wore black arm bands and draped objects in public view with dark fabric. 
In May 1863 Helen took a teaching job in Norfolk, Virginia.  Just a month earlier, the Brute Street Baptist Church had opened a school exclusively for freed slaves, a project of the American Missionary Association.”
Roughly twenty more teachers arrived in Norfolk by September of 1863, and by the end of that year there were more than three thousand students of all ages at the school. Teaching in Norfolk was a dangerous social experiment. Just a year prior the city had been surrendered to Union forces, and many Confederate sympathizers in town were up in arms about a school for African Americans and tried to have it shut down. The unrelenting harassment of her students angered Helen. She “immediately caused the arrest of the offenders and they were all fined,” said O.H. Stevens, a longtime Pitts family friend, in an interview years later. Amid angry residents and rampant disease, Helen taught for over a year. Only when falling ill (most likely with tuberculosis) did Helen return to Honeoye, where she was bedridden for years (Hansen 2-3).
In the late 1870s, Helen lived in Washington, D.C. with her uncle Hiram, a neighbor of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass, on Cedar Hill.  She became corresponding secretary “for the feminist, moral-reform newspaper, The Alpha.  … she chose letters for publication and moderated heated discussions on everything from women’s right to vote and sexual reproductive health, to whether or not a woman should be blamed for inciting men’s ardor with a low-cut dress (Hansen 3-4).
Helen moved to Indiana in 1878 to teach school alongside her sister Eva.  She and Douglass corresponded, shared their interest in literature and politics.  “Helen clashed with locals over race issues.  The local newspaper wrote that she was ‘sprightly and a good scholar, though unfortunately possessed of a fiery temper which frequently brought her in trouble …’” (Hansen 5).  She was forced to resign before the end of the 1879 term.
Helen returned to the nation’s capitol to live with her uncle.  
She took a job as a clerk in the federal pension office, where she worked for two years. Douglass was the Recorder of Deeds for the District at the time, and when a clerkship opened up in his office in 1882 he hired Helen. Within months Douglass’s wife died, and he sank into depression. He sought solace up North for a time with old friends, including the Pitts family.
Sometime in the next year, 1883, Helen moved into her own apartment in downtown Washington, DC. She and Douglass continued to see one another every day and to exchange ideas. In addition to their politics, “they bonded over gardening, traveling, theater, art,” says curator of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Collection, Ka’mal McClarin. Their esteem for one another was evident, and somewhere along the way it grew into more (Hansen 6).
Their marriage incited sharp public and private criticism.  Newspapers, emphasizing the age difference (21 years) and that Helen was white, assailed the union, some declaring it illegal.  The Weekly News, a Pittsburgh-based, African American-run newspaper, went so far as to print: “Fred Douglass has married a red-head white girl. Good-bye black blood in that family. We have no further use for him. His picture hangs in our parlor, we will hang it in the stables” (Hansen 7).
Douglass detested the hypocrisy that produced segregation and inequality. Himself the product of mixed-parentage, he deplored those who would limit his choice of partner to only one race and quipped that his marriage to a black woman would be just as interracial as to a white woman. Full integration, he believed, was the only path to justice. Integration should include not only the acceptance and legal protection of freedom, citizenship, and equal access to education and public facilities, but also of the most intimate and private relationships in life (Fought 2).
Frederick and Helen were not universally condemned.  They had their supporters, famous, not yet famous, and not at all famous.  Ida B. Wells, the anti-lynching crusader, was a frequent guest in the Douglasses’ home during their eleven-year marriage. In her autobiography she recalled, “The more I saw of them, the more I admired them both for the patient and uncomplaining way they met the sneers and discourtesies heaped upon them, especially Mrs. Douglass. . . . The friendship and hospitality I enjoyed at the hands of these two great souls is among my treasured memories” (Hansen 7).
Helen had written: “Love came to me, and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color,”
Douglass continued a rigorous schedule of writing and public speaking all over the country, on racial tensions and women’s rights. It was, by most accounts, a productive and happy time. During that period, he wrote, “What can the world give me more than I already possess? I am blessed with a loving wife, who in every sense of the word is a helpmate, who enters into all my joys and sorrows.” Helen ran the busy household, handled much of the correspondence, and likely acted as a sounding board for Douglass’s ideas (Hansen 8).
Weary of near constant scrutiny, the Douglasses toured Europe and Egypt in 1886 and 1887.  The trip abroad was a breath of fresh air.  They did not receive automatically malicious looks.  In her diary, Helen wrote: “People will look at Frederick wherever we go but they wear no unpleasant expressions” (Hansen 8).
After Douglass’s sudden death in 1895, Helen’s focus changed from supporting his ambitions and their shared ideologies to securing his legacy. While Douglass’s will had left almost everything to Helen, including Cedar Hill, his children fought its legitimacy. (It was witnessed by two people, not the three required by law.) Helen secured a loan to buy the house from the children and then took to the lecture circuit, earning money to pay the mortgage (Hansen 9).  Her speeches frequently criticized the Southern states’ Convict Lease System, in which incarcerated blacks were leased to perform chain gang labor for White property owners.  [See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convict_lease]
Helen fought to save Cedar Hill as a monument to her husband.  In 1900 she succeeded “in having Congress establish the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, which would maintain Cedar Hill and its contents after her death, [which occurred] in 1903.  the house was opened to visitors in 1916. In 1962 Cedar Hill was added to the national park system. The National Park Service (NPS) now safeguards the extraordinary property, preserving roughly 80 percent of the original furnishings” (Hansen 10).
Helen Pitts Douglas died at the age of 65.  Ida B. Wells wrote: “She loved her husband with as great a love as any woman ever showed. She endured martyrdom because of that love, with a heroism and fortitude” (Hansen 10).  Helen had wanted to be buried on the grounds of Cedar Hill.  Laws, however, prevented it.  She had no funeral service.  She was buried quietly beside her husband in Rochester.   
Works cited:
Fought, Leigh, “Commentary: Frederick Douglass and Interracial Marriage.”  Syracuse.com., February 25, 2013.  Net.  http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2013/02/frederick_douglass_and_interra.html
Hansen, Heather Baukney, Heather. “Right Is of No Sex.  Truth Is of No Color.”  Mount Holyoke CollegeAlumnae Association, April 7, 2017.  Net.  https://alumnae.mtholyoke.edu/blog/right-is-of-no-sex-truth-is-of-no-color/

Monday, March 12, 2018

Frederick Douglass's Women
Ottilia Assing
I encourage you to read my Frederick Douglass May 28, 2017, post, “Ottilia Assing and Slavery in the Territories,” before you proceed with the following.
Maria Diedrich's ''Love Across Color Lines'' explores in depth Douglass's 28-year relationship with Ottilie Assing, a German journalist and intellectual. Diedrich makes a persuasive case that this long friendship was in fact an intimate love affair that Douglass and Assing maintained in spite of Douglass's marriage to a black woman who was the mother of his five children. Although previous biographers have acknowledged the importance of Assing to Douglass, Diedrich, a professor of American studies at the University of Mnster in Germany, offers a much more elaborate portrait of Assing and of the liaison that was at the center of her life .
Ottilie Assing was born in Hamburg in 1819 to a Jewish physician and his wife, the daughter of one of Germany's most prominent intellectual families. Ottilie's aunt Rahel Varnhagen had presided over a legendary salon in turn-of-the-century Berlin, and her writings came to serve as a ''feminist bible'' for her niece. Ottilie's parents, ''disciples of Romanticism,'' provided her and her younger sister with an excellent education and with revolutionary ideals emphasizing human equality, the intellectual capabilities of women and the dangers of the constraints of convention. From a young age, Ottilie and Ludmilla engaged in bitter emotional rivalry, and, not long after their parents' deaths in the early 1840's, Ottilie set out to establish an independent identity.
She first turned to journalism, attacking Hamburg's cultural philistinism, then assumed a position as a tutor to the children of one of the city's leading actors, Jean Baptiste Baison. Assing became Baison's ''partner, nurse and probably his lover,'' and she ''enjoyed the spotlight of scandal,'' deriving satisfaction from her superiority to convention. But what Assing regarded as a relationship of equality was in fact profoundly asymmetrical, ''for it was always Ottilie Assing adapting to Baison's needs,'' even to the point of yielding him a substantial portion of her inheritance. When Baison died of typhoid fever, Assing was forced to rely almost entirely on her own labors for support. In 1851 she began to write for Morgenblatt fr Gebildete Leser, a distinguished journal to which she contributed for the next 14 years. Faced with increasing anti-Semitism and growing restrictions on freedom of the press in the aftermath of the failed Revolution of 1848, Assing immigrated to the United States in 1852.
Her experience as a person of Jewish descent in Germany made her especially interested in American racial issues, and soon after her arrival she began to write for Morgenblatt on ''race relations, slavery, black America'' and ''to set herself up as Germany's 'Negro expert.' ''Such ambitions made it almost inevitable that she should seek out Douglass, as she did in 1856, literally knocking on his door in Rochester to propose a German translation of his work. From the outset, Diedrich writes, she was ''completely taken by Douglass's powerful male presence'' and wrote about him in such erotic terms that Diedrich calls her subsequent Morgenblatt article ''the first . . . of the many public love songs'' Assing composed for Douglass. But Diedrich characterizes Assing's description of Douglass as one that ''deprived him of his blackness,'' assimilating him into her elitist white conceptions of cultural excellence.
Assing and Douglass began to correspond as she arranged to translate ''My Bondage and My Freedom,'' and in 1857 Assing spent the first of 22 summers living in the Douglass family home. Douglass had earlier been romantically linked in public gossip with an English abolitionist, and Assing believed that ''the Douglass marriage had been over long before she entered the scene.'' ''Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to see'' Douglass's wife, Anna, ''as a fellow human being and as a woman,'' Assing treated her with contempt, writing disdainfully of her blackness and her illiteracy.
In the years that followed, Douglass and Assing shared an intense personal and professional relationship during summers in Rochester and through his frequent winter visits to her rooms in Hoboken, N.J. It was to Assing that Douglass fled when he feared implication in the John Brown conspiracy, and after the Civil War broke out the two collaborated to produce parallel articles for Douglass' Monthly and Morgenblatt urging the transformation of the conflict into a war to end slavery (Faust 1-4).
Diedrich presumes that the 28-year friendship of German journalist Ottilie Assing and married abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was a love affair. Styling herself as Germany's ""Negro expert,"" Assing ""enjoyed the spotlight of scandal,"" according to Diedrich. She wrote and traveled in the U.S. after having been ostracized in Germany as a ""half-breed"" whose Jewish father converted to Christianity, believing that her genius would uplift America's underdeveloped cultural scene. Although envisioning herself as egalitarian, Assing told friends she meant to ""introduce readers to highly educated darkies""; in writing about Douglass, Diedrich argues, she ""carefully avoided any physical feature or character trait that might denote difference,"" presenting Douglass as ""the ideal personification of the classical Western orator (PW 1).
Although their collaboration continued after the war, Douglass showed no inclination to leave his wife. More pessimistic than he about the future course of American politics and race relations, Assing also began to quarrel with him about the fecklessness of his grown children. Although Diedrich believes it was still ''obvious that Douglass cared deeply'' about her, signs of tension and even estrangement began to appear. In 1876 Assing departed for a European trip with hopes that Douglass would join her en route. But he proved to be less interested in her than in his career and family in the United States.
When Anna Murray Douglass died in the summer of 1882, Douglass made no apparent effort to contact Assing. Eighteen months later he married Helen Pitts, a white woman almost 20 years younger than Assing. The following August, Assing, said by friends to be suffering from breast cancer, killed herself in a Paris park with a dose of potassium cyanide. She coupled this ultimate gesture of Romantic self-determination with what Diedrich calls ''a more substantial way of haunting'' Frederick Douglass. Her will provided that the income of her $13,000 estate be delivered to him in semiannual installments for the rest of his life (Faust 5).
In the process of writing her book, Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Faught expressed doubts about the accuracy of Maria Diedrich’s interpretive narration.
I am just having problems with the book [Love across Color Lines] as I re-read it while trying to place Assing in my own work; and in reading the book yet again I am finding that I question the premise of the work, the methods and interpretations of the research, and -- most importantly -- the overall significance of Assing herself.
The author doesn't show her work in how she got to the conclusion that this affair was a sexual affair, she doesn't discuss how she deduced that and interrogated that deduction and then come to that conclusion. The conclusion is just there as an accepted fact that guides everything afterward.
Thus, everything that Assing and Douglass say or do is motivated by or interpreted only as furthering that relationship. Thus, Assing moves from New York City to Hoboken, NJ, to have a place to meet with Douglass, not because she is quite poor at that point and a boarding house Hoboken might be a less expensive place to live. She moves from Hoboken to Washington, D.C., during Reconstruction again to be near Douglass, not to (or not also to)be near the center of political action as a political journalist.
Such real, practical considerations are ignored elsewhere, too, and with greater implications. If this affair went on for two decades, at least half of which were before Assing entered an age for menopause, and during which she stayed with the Douglasses for months on end, why did she not get pregnant? Where, in fact, did they have sex? Under the same roof as Douglass’s wife and children – and later in laws and grandchildren? Under the boarding house roof where her landlady and landlords were raising children?  … The Garrisonians who made such gossip of Julia Griffths only a year before Assing showed up make no mention of Assing at all (and they were as gossipy as a clique of 12-year-olds). No alternate explanations are explored nor practicalities considered. All the reader receives are contradictory dismissals that the landlady and landlords were German and liberal, and therefore exempt from American middle class sensibilities, that the Douglass family – in laws included – were forced to accept whatever Douglass imposed on them (likely, but still not satisfying), and that no one talked about the affair because everyone wanted to protect the movement as a whole and, besides, no one ever visited the Douglasses anyway.
What I am thinking here is that Assing was very deeply taken with Douglass, but him not so much with her. I think he got something out of the relationship with her – she was a journalist, he was an editor, she had connections on the European continent, perhaps she was a kind listener, clearly she would have been a willing booty-call but he wasn’t deeply in love with her and certainly wasn’t going to follow her to Europe or leave his wife, or really go out of his way for her. That, right now, is my hypothesis that I have to test through rigorous research in the documents (Fought 1-6)
If you search for Ottilie or Ottilia Assing in Google, you would think that she killed herself because Frederick Douglass had broken her heart by marrying Helen Pitts, another white woman, twenty years their junior. Online sources say this because her biographer, Maria Diedrich, painted a tragically romantic portrait of her despite evidence to the contrary. All sources, which Diedrich cites, say that Assing had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Despite the 21st century image of breast cancer being pink ribbons and survival narratives, the disease is still dreadful and deadly today, even with treatments. Indeed, treatment is still heroic, involving surgery and essentially poisoning the woman just enough to eliminate the cancer without killing the woman. This is progress. In the nineteenth century, radical mastectomy was the only treatment; and, in an age without mammograms or other early detection technologies, by the time surgery took place, the cancer was already in the lymph nodes, coursing throughout her body.   … Suicide was a your own merciful exit, even when you had a family, doctors and wealth to take you through the longer death.
Assing had no family when she learned of this diagnosis. Sure, she had friends, but they had families or were elderly, none equipped to take on the last months or years of a dying woman's life. Douglass himself was out of the question because he was a man. Men did not do that. Women did, and she did not know the new Mrs. Douglass. This ordeal she faced, she faced alone; and, even had she not been alone, she still faced the ordeal. Suicide allowed her control and dignity in her dying (Fought 1-2).
Works cited:
Faust, Drew Gilpin.  “Fatal Attraction: The Affair Between Frederick Douglass and a German Journalist Endured for 28 Years until Its Tragic Conclusion.”  Books: The New York Times on the Web.  August 1, 1999.  Net.  http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/08/01/reviews/990801.01faustt.html
Fought, Leigh, “Suicide in the Bois de Boulogne: Ottilia Assing's Death.”  Frederick Douglass: In Progress, Notes, Queries, and Musings about Frederick Douglass.  April 30, 2012.   Net.  http://leighfought.blogspot.com/2012/04/suicide-in-bois-de-boulougne-ottilia.html
Fought, Leigh, “The Problem With Assing.”  Frederick Douglass: In Progress, Notes, Queries, and Musings about Frederick Douglass. November 14, 2011.  Net. http://leighfought.blogspot.com/2011/11/problem-with-assing.html
Publishers Weekly Book Review of Love Across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass by Maria Diedrich.  June 1, 1999.  Net. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8090-1613-6

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Book Review
"In the Fall"
by Jeffrey Lent
In many respects Jeffrey Lent’s In the Fall is a remarkable historical novel.  Lent is a skilled narrator, he is knowledgeable about his subject matter, his observations about human conduct are incisive, and his characters are intriguingly exceptionally complex.
Lent’s story spans three generations.  It is essentially three novels all of which relate to a violent event that occurs in Sweetboro, North Carolina, at the end of the Civil War.  Without giving away important details in the story, I offer the following summary.
A young slave girl, Leah, is sexually attacked by her white, half-brother Alexander Mebane.  She strikes his head with the hot iron that she has grasped off the kitchen stove.  Believing that he is dead, she seeks advice from the stable-man, old slave Peter about how to escape. Days later she encounters Norman Pelham, a wounded Vermont soldier, lying in underbrush as the Civil War comes to a close.  Sensing that he is a kind man, believing that she must atone for killing Mebane, she nurses him to health.  They commit to each other and walked back to his family’s farm in Randolph, Vermont.  They are married; they have three children.  Leah is haunted by what she has left behind in North Carolina.  Twenty-five years after the 1865 traumatic event, she goes back to Sweetboro to find answers to questions that have progressively daunted her.
The second part of the novel focuses on Leah and Norman’s youngest child, Jamie.  At the age on nineteen, in 1904, he leaves the family farm and finds work in Barre, Vermont, making deliveries of home-made whiskey for his criminal boss.  He meets a young woman, Joey, a singer at a local, private night club.  He befriends her and then rescues her after she has been beaten by the brother of city police chief.  They flee to Bethlehem, New Hampshire, close to Mount Washington, a tourist town with grand hotels that cater to the rich and famous.  Jamie becomes a hotel manager and eventually establishes a bootleg whiskey business.  Joey pursues a higher level singing career.  After a rocky relationship, they marry.  They have two children.  Tragedies follow.
The third part of In the Fall is about part of the sixteenth year of Jamie and Joey’s older child, Foster Pelham.  Living on his own, discovering a letter to his father from one of Norman Pelham’s daughters in Randolph, he goes to his deceased grandparents’ farm and learns from his two aunts the story of his grandparents’ meeting and what the aunts know about Leah’s return to Sweetboro twenty-five years afterward.  Foster has not known anything about his grandparents.  Intrigued, empathetic, Foster goes to Sweetboro.  He discovers that Alexander Mebane is alive and is the source of the evil that has adversely affected his grandparents’ lives, his father’s life, and his own short life.
This exchange between Leah and Norman illustrates Lent’s narrative skills: pointed dialogue, visual clarity, intimation of depth of character, attention to detail.
She said, “I look at you, you know what I see?  Norman?”
“I got no idea.”
“I see a man gentle right down in his soul.  All the way down.”
Then she was quiet and when she spoke again her voice had lost a little edge and he heard it right away, a little less certainty and he felt this loss in his chest like hot water.  She said, “So me.  You look at me what do you see?  Norman?”
His face furrowed like a spring field, wanting to get this just right.  He had no idea what to say and kept looking at her hoping she’d wait for him, hoping she’d be patient.  Hoping he’d find his way not out but through this.
She didn’t wait.  She said, “You see a little nigger girl wanting to eat up your biscuit, your bacon, whatever you got?  You see me thinking my taking care of you once overnight is something I can trade for lots more than that?  Or maybe even just nigger pussy ready for you to say the right words, do the right thing?  That what you see, Norman?  And she reared back away from him now, sitting still on the bench, upright as if at a great distance, her back arched like a drawn bow, eyes burning wide open as her soul welled up but not at all ready to pour out without something back from him.  He watched his hands turning one over the other, the fingers lacing and relacing until he realized she was watching him do this.  He slid around and lifted his right leg over the bench so he sat straddle-legged facing her front on.  With his face collapsed in sheer terror, he said to her, “Leah.  All I see is the most lovely girl I’ve ever seen.”
She stood off the bench away from him and said, “I told you the truth, Norman.  I told you the truth.  But you lying to me if that’s all you see.”
And without even thinking about it he said, “What I see in the most lovely girl and one fat wide world of trouble.  Trouble for both of us.  That’s what I see.”
And now she stepped back over the bench to face him and said, “You got that right.  You got that just exactly right.”  He reached and took one of her hands and sat looking down at their hands lying one into the other, the small slip of warmth between his fingers, her life lying up against his, and still not looking at her he said, “Don’t you ever talk that way to me again Leah.”
“What way?”  Her voice low, already knowing, needing to ask, needing him to tell her.
So he said, “That nigger-this nigger-that business.”
Lent’s story exudes authenticity.  Here is what Joey tells Jamie about her being an entertainer.
“What that means is I wear outfits that make clear there’s a girl underneath and five or six times a night I stand up on Charlie’s little stage and sing.  Songs like ‘If You Were a Kinder Fellow Than the Kind of Fellow You Are’ or ‘The Man Was a Stranger to Me’ … Between numbers I have to circulate, work up the crowd.  Keep em buying drinks, let em buy me drinks – which is always nothing but cold tea.  … Fellows tip you for a song, you flirt a little bit, they tip some more.  And there’s some who’ll get a crush on a girl and bring presents to her, give her money that sort of thing.  Charlie doesn’t allow his girls to hook but that doesn’t mean some of the girls some of the times don’t make arrangements to meet men outside of the club.  … Now, the thing about that business is you have to pick and choose.  Because what you want to do is keep the fellow coming around, both to the club and on the side.  So you have to work them along, maybe giving a little but mostly putting the idea always in their heads like they’re getting far more than they are, or like they’re just about to.  
I was especially impressed that Lent delved into the human psyche regarding coming to terms with one’s aberrant behavior.  Here are several examples.
Norman: Telling himself no event lies or falls unconnected to others and that will is only the backbone needed to face these things head on.
Leah: But it was cowards finally who believe they can lay down one life and pick up another and not have them meet again.    That no punishment could be greater than to find in herself that all the rest of her life, that new life, all that was made from a lie.  Lying to herself.
Jamie: He believed in luck.  Not the ordinary luck that comes to all in runs of good or bad seemingly out of nowhere but luck searched out, sought in the corners and back rooms and cobwebbed recesses where no other might think to look.  Luck, then earned someway.
Jamie: We can’t ever learn a thing.  We just keep doing the same things over and over.  Not even intentional.  Like we can’t help ourselves.  Like it’s who we really are.  That’s it – we spend our lives just becoming what we already someway know we are.
Jamie: Mostly, …people are cruel, given the chance.
Abigail (Jamie’s sister, to Foster): He hated himself, your father did.  Hated what he was.  Ran out of here and never would come back.  Because he did not want to be what he was.  The same way Mother thought she could leave her old life behind clean he did the same.  But it does not work that way.
Mebane: Every man is a curious thing – each one of us thinks we are nothing so much as our ownselves even as we fume about what had been done to us by others but we almost never see how we pass those wrongs along; we have our reasons for doing what we do and believe them not only to be right but the way things are, the way they have to be.
Mebane: Evil is not a thing that just sums up in a man.  No.  It is a thread that begins to run in a small way and then falls down through the years and generations to gain weight as it goes.
Mebane: It’s what we all do – we find a way to allow what we want but should not.
Mebane: That is what regret does.  It allows you to live with yourself.  You know what they say – all men in prison are innocent?  … it’s that they grow to understand themselves in such a way as to see that moment, the trigger that set them off in the first place, that got them to where they are, they see that as something separate from themselves.  They come to believe, to know, that ever again their choice would be a different one.  Not only in the past but in the future.  Because they cannot allow the truth.
In the Fall is well worth a reader’s time to read. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Frederick Douglass's Women
Julia Griffiths
I provided information about Julia Griffiths’s involvement in Frederick Douglass’s life in my April 13, 2017, post, “Frederick Douglass – Julia Griffiths.” http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com/search/label/Frederick%20Douglass?updated-max=2017-09-23T14:48:00-07:00&max-results=20&start=9&by-date=false  I encourage you to review its content before you read this post.
Great Britain prohibited the institution of slavery in 1834.  Eleven years later a young Negro orator and abolitionist, named Frederick Douglass, went there as a protégé of the Garrisonians and spent nearly two years lecturing before many groups. One of these organizations … was the Women's Anti-Slavery Society of London. Several members of the Society were to play very important parts in Douglass' life. Two of them, especially, identified by Douglass as Mrs. Ellen Richardson and Mrs. Henry Richardson, members of the Society of Friends, were driving forces in collecting enough money (150 pounds or $711.60) to buy him from Captain Hugh Auld of Maryland to whom his ownership had been transferred by his old master, Thomas Auld, the Captain's brother. The two Richardson ladies manumitted him in December of 1846, thus legalizing the freedom he had conferred upon himself by his flight from slavery (Palmer 1).
Douglass met another influential, passionate London activist, Julia Griffiths, during his 1845-1847 tour.  She gave him “a valuable collection of books, pamphlets, tracts, and pictures as a starter for educating him in the cause of abolition” (Palmer 1).  Fired with zealous hopes, Douglass returned to American in the spring of 1847 intent upon founding  an anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester, New York. 
His dream, he explained, was to fight prejudice among whites and to demonstrate to the African American the potential for equality available "by disproving his inferiority and demonstrating his capacity for a more exalted civilization than slavery and prejudice had assigned him" (Fee 1).
William Lloyd Garrison and his followers strongly opposed Douglass’s plan “on the grounds that no such paper was needed and Douglass could do more for the cause as a speaker” (Palmer 1).  It was not until December that Douglass printed his first issue.
Early the following year he returned to his family in Lynn, Massachusetts, to prepare to move them to Rochester.  Almost immediately the paper experienced financial difficulties.  In May, Douglass “appealed to his readers from the editorial page: ‘We are reluctantly compelled to call upon you for pecuniary assistance.’  
If, as he believed, publishing a newspaper would create white esteem for the black race while encouraging blacks to higher attainment, closing the North Star would be a devastating refutation of all that he believed about himself and about black ability and potential (Fee 1).
Douglass mortgaged his home on Alexander Street in Rochester for five hundred dollars to help meet expenses.  … Evidently in response to Douglass' expression of distress and to an earlier letter in which he despaired of publishing a paper,” Julia Griffiths “immediately made a quick round trip to the United States, and returned to stay in 1849, accompanied by her sister, Eliza” (Palmer 1).  Years later, of Julia Douglass wrote:
But to no one person was I more indebted for substantial assistance than to Mrs. Julia Griffiths Crofts. She came to my relief when my paper had nearly absorbed all my means, and was heavily in debt, and when I had mortgaged my house to raise money to meet current expenses; and by her energetic and effective management, in a single year enabled me to extend the circulation of my paper from 2,000 to 4,000 copies, pay off the debts and lift the mortgage from my house. Her industry was equal to her devotion. She seemed to rise with every emergency, and her resources appeared inexhaustible (Palmer 2).
The English ladies landed in New York early in May, 1849, and Douglass met them. Julia and her sister soon displayed the seriousness of their convictions when they cancelled their registration at the Franklin Hotel on learning that Negroes could not register there.  During their stay in this country the sisters suffered various indignities and criticisms because of their free association with Douglass, a Negro and ex-slave. The worst fracas, probably, in which they were directly involved, occurred on the trip up the Hudson from New York to Albany on their way to Rochester. When Douglass and the two sisters entered the dining room of the LIDA, on Thursday, May 8, 1849, he was ordered to get out, first by the steward, then by the mate, and finally by the captain, who succeeded in convincing Douglass to leave. The sisters, in protest, followed him out of the dining room. As a consequence, the party had nothing to eat until they reached Albany.  Their trials and tribulations did not appear to faze Julia very much, however. To her, these disturbances were all a part of the calculated risk she had undertaken in coming to the United States to fight slavery. To Douglass they were part of his everyday life as a black man in America.  Once in Rochester, Julia plunged with fervor into the work of putting The North Star on its feet financially (Palmer 2).
Julia seems quite conscious of her role in assisting Douglass, particularly in her position as guardian of the exchequer. In a letter to Gerrit Smith she says, "Remember, Dear Sir, I am the Banker for the paper -- I know, always, PRECISELY, how the accounts stand -- ." The note of calm assurance evident here and present in most of her correspondence of this period must have been most helpful in sustaining Douglass in his project in the face of his self-doubts, his fears, and the various material obstacles of all kinds that he had to overcome (Palmer 3).
Part of her responsibilities lay in getting subscriptions. She wrote continually to such leading figures as Gerrit Smith and William H. Seward. It is a bit amusing to observe with what tenacity she followed each promise of a subscription. She wrote to Seward, for instance, reminding him of his pledge and that he was "receiving his paper constantly," and therefore should send in his five dollar pledge. Upon at least two occasions, Douglass was a bit abashed by Julia's aggressiveness in his behalf. Julia was aware of Douglass' feeling, for she relayed it to Gerrit Smith in a letter, July 10, 1851: "Our friend Frederick is rather disturbed at my having troubled you . . . as he feels . . . claims before you to be too heavy." At another time Douglass acknowledged Julia's interest and energy when he wrote to Smith, "Your letter to my friend Miss Griffiths in which you send 25 dollars to be used in publishing my 4th of July speech makes me uneasy. The zeal of my friend is great and I fear she sometimes seems too urgent in my behalf" (Palmer 4).
To improve the financial base of The North Star and of her co-founded, local anti-slavery society, Julia set out to raise a thousand dollars from the sale of a gift book, Autographs for Freedom.  “In the book appeared material of various types from prominent abolitionists and sympathizers over their autographs printed in facsimile.  Jay, Greeley, Whittier, Seward, Stone, Beecher, Willard, and, of course, Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass, among others, sent selections for the book” (Palmer 5).   It “sold so well that a second edition was prepared the following year.” 
Julia’s anti-slavery Rochester society also sponsored its first annual lecture series, bringing in renowned speakers. Once again, the Society found a large and receptive audience for their message. Colleagues in British antislavery societies provided an important and regular source of funds through bazaars held on behalf of the Rochester Society. By the late 1850s, the annual receipts of the Society surpassed $1,500.
The bulk of the money raised by the Society was used in the important task of keeping Frederick Douglass' Paper solvent, but money was also used to help support a school for freedmen in Kansas and for the publication and distribution of anti-slavery literature in Kentucky. The Society played a crucial support role in one stretch of the Underground Railroad, providing small cash gifts directly to fugitive slaves to aid them on the last leg of their escape to Canada. The Society's annual reports for 1855 and 1856 listed 136 fugitives who had passed through Rochester with the Society's help … (Cox 1).
Julia did not confine all of her efforts to The North Star, Autographs for Freedom, and the like. When there were items left over from the bazaars, she frequently bundled them up and took them across the lake to Canada, to sell. She was also involved in the underground railroad, an activity she seemed to experience with considerable relish. Douglass described how he "dispatched" Julia to the landing on the Genesee River to arrange for the passage to Canada of three fugitives he was helping at the time. … in escaping, one, William Parker, killed their master. Julia wrote to Gerrit Smith : "We have had great excitement in our house since we parted with you on Friday - on Saturday, THREE FUGITIVES (conducted by a reliable colored man) came to Alexander Street to ask aid … We secreted them for 8 or 9 hours . . . Mr. Loguen and I drove to the LANDING - to make necessary inquiries concerning Canada, Boats, etc. -- Frederick consulted with Mr. S. D. Porter first. . . ." The men at first proposed driving the fugitives to Lewiston by night, but she "felt that the unusual mode would attract attention." She added that if a boat at the landing proved to be an "English boat it would be safer to put them on board." Luckily, there was an English boat at the landing, and she made arrangements with the black who kept the landing to give a special signal should any trouble occur at their approach. Nothing did happen, and the party reached the landing and boarded the boat safely (Palmer 6).
All day, she worked with him at the newspaper and in the evening they returned home, retreating into his study to share a writing table while working on speeches and editorials.  They shared an intellectual companionship in their work, activism, and love of literature, which began with her first gift to him of books in 1847, but their camaraderie shut out the rest of the family. 
… To a certain extent, Anna [Douglass] tolerated Julia because Julia had been the salvation of the newspaper and all that it represented for the Douglasses and abolition, and she held the mortgage on their home until 1853.  The family, therefore, owed quite a bit to the Englishwoman.  Yet, as an intrinsic part of Frederick’s work life who also lived in his home, Julia took him away from his family in the evenings when Anna could have reasonably expected his time to herself (Fought 1).
From time to time discontent in New York, Albany, Boston, even Rochester was expressed concerning Douglass' free association with Julia and Eliza. This criticism was to be expected from proslavery and rough elements, but it was heightened for others by the fact that the two sisters resided with Douglass ….Julia's removal to another location after three years' residence there helped to confirm the suspicion in some minds that all was not well with the Douglass family.
Julia wrote to Smith, ever a real confidante, about the "home trials" which Douglass suffered. In order to comfort him and to ease his tribulations, she read to him evenings. She nursed him in sickness. She was constantly at his side in his office, at home, and at the paper. In view of the closeness of Julia and Frederick, Mrs. Douglass would of necessity occupy the background on perhaps too many occasions. This no doubt rankled Mrs. Douglass deeply. The rising chorus of public comment, in addition to his home situation, caused Douglass as early as 1849 to castigate editorially those who "artfully and deliberately manufacture lies and insidiously circulate them with no other motive than to blast the fair name of another."  … Mrs. Gerrit Smith wrote from Rochester to her husband that Julia Griffiths "took tea with us. We had a long talk alone in which she poured out her sorrows. I will tell you when we meet. She is deeply afflicted with this 'strife of tongues'" (Palmer 6).
Garrisonians had not liked Douglass' initial show of independence and they liked even less his changing ideas. Julia Griffiths certainly played a considerable part in this estrangement. … Douglass had demonstrated his independence of Garrison by establishing a paper and by the gradual adoption of views unpleasing to his former mentor, culminating in the beliefs that anti-slavery action should be expressed by political and not merely moral means, that the Union need not be sundered, and that the churches were not necessarily supporters of slavery. All of these points of difference led to a growing estrangement between the former friends and to increasing attacks on Douglass and Julia Griffiths. Several papers like the Pennsylvania Freeman and The Liberator and particularly The Anti-Slavery Standard of September 24, 1853 which spoke of Julia as a "Jezebel" finally provoked Douglass to devote a large part of the December 9, 1853, issue of his paper to a rebuttal. This in turn caused Garrison to attack Douglass and Julia openly in an editorial in The Liberator of December 16, 1853, heading it with the caption, "The Mask Entirely Removed" and excoriating Douglass for his defection from Garrisonianism and blaming a ". . . bad advisor in Mr. Douglass' printing office," whom he accused of exerting "a pernicious influence upon him" (Palmer 7).
No doubt all this public clamor not only affected Douglass' peace of mind but also aggravated the various physical ailments from which he suffered. In a number of letters to Seward and particularly to Smith, Julia reported on Douglass' health and urged that they write to him.  What was apparent was that Douglass was in a profound state of depression over his situation at a time when his speaking tours were so demanding.  … there is no doubt that pressures of all kinds were building strongly during this period. Any doubts or fears he might have had were magnified several fold by these pressures and sure to depress him at times. 
By 1855 the paper was more than usually in need of substantial help. Julia, who, as director of its finances, had exhausted her resources locally and who, no doubt, by this time was anxious to see her native land, decided to return to England for the purpose of raising more money for the paper from sources which had proved fruitful in the past.   She returned to England, formed a number of additional anti-slavery societies, and began to write for Frederick Douglass' Monthly as well as to abstract Douglass' letters for the London Mercury. She did not return to the United States, but she continued her interest in this country, first, of course, by maintaining a correspondence with Douglass (Palmer 8).
Julia married Reverend H. O. Crofts in 1859.  He died in 1876.  Douglass and his second wife visited Julia while on a European tour in 1886. 
Julia's life apparently was not pleasant in her latter years. She supported herself for some time by running a boarding school for girls; but the project rather played out as she wrote from St. Neots to Douglass, "I have only 11 boarders this term -- and about the same number of day pupils -- and I NEED 4 or 5 MORE GOOD boarders to make all right . . . but if I gave up I should have nothing. . ." Later, she became a governess, but lost that position just before Christmas. She wrote, "I have not the least idea what will become of me . . . Oh, it is terrible to be homeless in this cold, selfish, world! . . . The mother of my pupils intimated to me that her husband did not want the governess of his children to have many friends -- in the town -- especially so many dissenters!" Julia's lifelong intellectual independence now endangered her livelihood at a time when she was unable to fight back with much strength .Within a few years an even more distressing eventuality came about. In a letter to Douglass in which there were scrawled only four or five words (in huge letters) to the line, with only eight or nine lines to the page, Julia wrote, "I have been under the care of a first class oculist since last January -- for a singular affection of the eyes, termed 'Hemoraged (sic) arteries' -- It greatly interferes with my correspondence. .. ." She concluded by begging Douglass to write, as she usually did (Palmer 8).
Works cited:
Cox, Rob S. Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society Papers, 1851-1868.”  William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.  Net.  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/clementsmss/umich-wcl-M-2084roc?view=text
Fee, Frank E. “To No One More Indebted: Frederick Douglass and Julia Griffiths, 1849-63.”  Academic journal article.  Questia: Trusted Online Research.   Net.  https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-2367401191/to-no-one-more-indebted-frederick-douglass-and-julia
Palmer, Erwin. “A Partnership in the Abolition Movement.” University of Rochester Library Bulletin.  River Campus Libraries.  Net.  http://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/3476