Posts Tagged New National Era
Lewis H. Douglass profiled in William Wells Brown’s 1874, “The Rising Son: Or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race”
LEWIS H. DOUGLASS
The senior editor of the “New National Era” is the eldest son of Frederick Douglass, and inherits a large share of the father’s abilities. He was born in Massachusetts, has a liberal education, is a practical printer, received excellent training in the office of “The North Star,” at Rochester, New York, and is well calculated to conduct a newspaper. Mr. Douglass distinguished himself at the attack on Fort Wagner, where the lamented Colonel Robert G. Shaw fell. His being the first to ascend the defences surrounding the fort, and his exclamation of “Come, boys, we’ll fight for God and Governor Andrew,” was a the time commented upon by the press of Europe as well as of our own country.
Mr. Douglass is an active, energetic man, deeply alive to every interest of his race, uncompromising in his adherence to principle, and is a valuable citizen in any community. He has held several important positions in Washington, where his influence is great. He is a good writer, well informed, and interesting in conversation. In asserting his rights against the pr0scriptive combinations of the printers of Washington, Mr. Douglass was more than a match or his would-be superiors. As a citizen, he is highly respected, and is regarded as one of the leading men of the district. He is of medium size, a little darker in complexion than his father, has a manly walk, gentlemanly in his manners, intellectual countenance, and reliable in his business dealings. His paper, the “New National Era,” is well conducted, and should received the patronage of our people throughout the country.
Brown, William Wells. The Rising Son: Or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race. A.G. Brown & Company, 1874, p. 543 – 544.
Frederick Douglass is known for running away from slavery. In his nearly 50 years as a free man Douglass ran with fugitive slaves, militant abolitionists, suffragists, journalists, authors, presidents, senators, freedmen and the next generation of civil rights leaders from Ida B. Wells to Mary Church Terrell to Richard T. Greener, the first black graduate of Harvard University.
Douglass mentored Greener, a frequent guest at Douglass’s Capitol Hill home and later Cedar Hill. The two men knocked heads in public debates at Douglass Hall, formerly at the corner of Howard Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Greener was an intellectual of the first order. In some of the earliest editions of the New Era (later re-named the New National Era) Greener’s byline is seen. Greener would later purchase an ownership stake in the New National Era when it merged with a smaller Washington weekly.
Young Men, to the Front!
The adage which was once so common, if not so thoroughly axiomatic as to gain universal credence – “Old men for council and young men for war” – assumes additional notoriety to-day, when the old men are quarreling in the council chamber and the young men are kept outside the door. While the young men are willing to allow much to the school of experience; many of them are the followers of Locke, and believe in the doctrine of innate ideas. They believe, to continue the comparison, that experience and wisdom do not always spring from length of years, nor does ignorance appertain to youth as a necessity. They dare assert that, as there are those who would never be men, lived they to be as old as Methuselah, so there are some whose minds are as well filled, whose judgments are as mature at twenty-five and eight, and their energy as decisive as though they were in their tenth lustrum. Conscious of this fact, it is the absurdity of folly for the young colored men of the country to sit idly by and see the grandest opportunities slipping away, the best cases lost by default because of the lack of energy displayed by many of our so-called leaders who have been longer on the field. With some very few exceptions, honorable as they are rare, they have done well for their day and generation; but with regard to the needs and policy of the negroes of the present hour they are as innocent as babes. Men for the most part of excellent temper and good working capacity, they lack that which is the handmaid and often the indispensable auxiliary of knowledge and all effective work – judgement. Unconscious puppets often, they dance to unseen music, moved themselves by hidden wires.
The convention was the favorite resort of the leading negro of ten years ago. He convened and resolved, resolved and unconvened – read his own speeches, was delighted with his own frothy rhetoric, and really imagined himself a leading man. He talked eloquently then it must be granted, because he spoke of his wrongs; but when the war overturned the edifice of slavery “Othello’s occupation” was “gone,” indeed The number who have survived and held their own under the new order of things may be counted upon one hand. They survive through that grand old law so much combated but ever true – the survival of the fittest. They alone give character and reputation to the Negro. They make for him a fame which begets respect where his wrongs only excited pity. The field is comparatively clear now some of the older hacks have fallen by the way or lie spavined at the roadside. The question is, Will the young men of color throughout the country resolve to begin now to take part in public affairs, asserting their claim wherever it is denied, maintaining it wherever contested, and show that they young may be safe in counsel as well as good for war?
There are some who arrogate to themselves wisdom because of their years, just as some equally absurd people think they are wise because they never went to a high school or an academy – men, Heaven save the mark! who pride themselves on having never slaked their thirst at the fount of knowledge. It is not our purpose to disparage age. We remember what Cicero has written, so delightfully, of its pleasures; what Cephalus and Socrates thought of it in the Republic. We look “toward sunset” with reverences and respect; but it its with a reverence that makes us conscious of our own duty. The young men are now studying, working some, alas! idling away their time who ought to be the active, earnest men in the next Presidential campaign; young men who are to control the destinies of their race. Many of them are of marked ability and decidedly energetic in character. Not so fluent, perhaps, as their fathers, they are more thoughtful. They are found throughout the country. We feel that, if like Roderick Dhu, we should put the whistle to our lips and blow a stirring blast, they would spring up in every part of the country ready with voice, pen or muscle to do their share in any honorable work. In spirit we do this, as young men ourselves, willing to blow a blast which, would that the young men of the country would hear and heed! Young men, to the front! Young men, rouse yourselves! Take the opportunities; make them where they are denied! “Quit you like men; be strong.”
YOUNG MEN, TO THE FRONT!
New National Era, Vol. 4, No. 16, 24 April, 1874, p. 2
Happy (belated) 172nd birthday to Lewis Henry Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s eldest & most trusted son, b. Oct. 9, 1840 d. Oct. 9, 1908
Apologies about the lack of recent posts as we’ve been on multiple assignments and deadlines of late. But I wanted to take a moment to wish a Happy (belated) 172nd Birthday to Lewis H. Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s eldest and most trusted son. (Thanks to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site for the b-day reminder!)
Lewis fought for his country. He was a newspaper man. He was a labor man. He was a good uncle. He was also a member of the Legislative Council of the District of Columbia, appointed by President Grant.
Lewis also worked with the Bethel Literary and Historical Society at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church at 1518 M Street NW. He was the only one of Frederick Douglass’s four children who grew to adulthood not to have his own children, as I understand. He lived on 17th Street NW for many years. He worked closely with his father throughout their years together in Washington. He also was born and died on the same day of the same month.
While Lewis Douglass did not reach the heights that Robert Todd Lincoln did, Lewis was much the same in that he was a man on his own. An ambitious young scholar could gather enough material quite easily to write a full book on Lewis and/or Douglass’s children. We hope to see Lewis given his full measure one day.
Incorporation Certificates filed for “The New National Era and Citizens Publishing Company” [New National Era, April 17, 1873]
Messrs. Lewis H. Douglass, James Storum, and Richard T. Greener yesterday filed in the office of the Recorder of Deeds a certification of incorporation of “The New National Era and Citizen’s Publishing Company,” the capital stock of which is fixed at $20,000, with the following trustees: L. H. Douglass, R. W. Tompkins, George D. Johnson, R. T. Greener, John H. Cook, Charles R. Douglass, and Frederick Douglass, Jr. – Daily Morning Chronicle.
Frederick Douglass, editor of The New National Era, explains newspaper’s name change [September 8, 1870]
In the fall of 1870 The New Era, which had launched January 13, 1870 as the first national paper for black Americans, rechristened itself The New National Era. On September 8, 1870 the paper, edited and published by Frederick Douglass, ran a small note explaining the name change.
In nearly all I have read on Frederick Douglass and his second marriage, biographers use the same repeated source — The Pittsburgh Weekly News and a paper from Franklin County, Virginia — as a near monolith to represent the public and the press’ reaction. I find this lazy, amateurish, and unfitting of true scholarship. There are only a handful of true biographies (for adult readers) on Douglass, and yet, even with he best of these works, these two sources are repeated and regurgitated.
Why not look at newspapers in Washington, DC? In 1884 there were a couple of papers in the city…including The Washington Grit edited by black nationalist John Edward Bruce, who had contributed to The New National Era.
On February 16, 1884 an editorial ran reading, “We are opposed to colored men marrying second-rate white women, yet we do not see anything in the above threat to deter them from so doing if they wish. There has been as much fuss and noise about Frederick Douglass’ marriage to Helen M. Pits as if she were the daughter of the Secretary of State or some other dignitary. In our judgement neither of the contracting parties have gained anything. [Phineas Taylor] Barnum could make a mint of money out of this couple if they would consent to go on exhibition. We do not believe that it adds anything to the character of good sense of either of the two races to intermary with each other, and when it is done it will generally be found that moral depravity is at the bottom of them.”
To note, Helen Pitts, a college educated women in 19th century America, was white, but she was not “second-rate.”
Bruce, a fascinating figure recently given some long overdue scholarly attention, later reconciled with Douglass.
Letterhead of “The New National Era” – Frederick Douglass, Editor & Douglass Brothers, Publishers [Lewis & Frederick, Jr.]
The election of the first generation of black Congressmen and Senators was distinctly chronicled by The New National Era. By the close of the paper’s freshmen year Republican Joseph Rainey became the first black member of the House of Representatives. He was sworn-in December 12, 1870 after being selected by the South Carolina Republican Party to fill the vacated seat of Benjamin Whitenmore who was forced to resign after being charged with selling appointments to U.S. military academies. Rainey would be elected for four successive terms before losing re-election to the 46th Congress in 1878. He retired March 3, 1879, becoming the longest serving black American Congressman during the Reconstruction period.
“Mr. Rainey’s early education was extremely limited, never having attended a school in his life,” introduced the New National Era, “but despite the disadvantages under which the colored people labored at that time, his thirst for education was so great that he took every opportunity that presented itself to acquire a knowledge of books, and, being naturally of an observing turn of mind, improved rapidly.” Rainey “took his seat on the Republican side in the extreme southwest corner of the hall.” He was described as having “straight hair and bushy side whiskers, and looks like a Cuban.” For the record, The New National Era stated, the “colored race is now represented in the United States Senate by Hiram Revels, in the lower House of Congress by Mr. Rainey, and on the Judicial bench by Mr. J. J. Wright, Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina.”
It was noted in the same issue that the “colored population of the United States now numbers about five million” which equaled “about nine hundred thousand votes, and probably a million in the next Presidential election.” The previous Census had accounted for forty-two million persons which “will give the country another apportionment for members of the House.” Crunching the numbers, The New National Era determined on “a basis of 150,000 inhabitants to a Representative the House to be chosen two years hence would consist of 250 members. Of these the colored population would furnish the basis for thirty-four members.” In all the Reconstruction Congresses and those leading up to 1901 a total of twenty-one African Americans served as Congressmen.
Did Frederick Douglass buy “The New Era” from colored newspaper boy? Front page of “The New Era” [Thursday, January 13, 1870]
For black newspaper boys holding their street corners throughout downtown Washington, on Thursday January 13, 1870 there was a new paper to hawk, a paper uniquely speaking to their emerging place in the country and city, “The New Era.”
We forget Frederick Douglass came up in the streets of 1830′s Baltimore; he was always for the youngster on the make. From students at Howard University invited into his home(s) in the city to adolescent runaways in Rochester that Anna and Frederick helped shuttle to Canada, Douglass was ALWAYS there for the youngsters. His attitude was not I got mine, so get yours. Douglass’ attitude and message was I got mine this way, you can get yours this same way or other ways, but you CAN get it if you work hard, work hard, and don’t stop working hard and while working hard you believe in yourself. And at least one person believes in you, I do.
Frederick Douglass could break it down, he’d been there before and never forgot.I’ve heard through the grapevine of an account of a black newspaper boy seeing Frederick Douglass one morning on Pennsylvania Avenue and running up to him to talk — and sell a paper! When I first heard this I thought Douglass surely would have cut an image on the Avenue. The story goes that Douglass not only spoke to the young man, asking him questions about who he was and what he wanted to be, but that he gave him a “large tip” in life advice and a couple extra dollars. With my research approaching the stop sign as I’m weaving the chapters together I probably won’t have time to pursue this but I have two solid leads on where this account might be — if it does exist. This is another post I will have to update when I either confirm or reject this account.
Intrigue and speculation often times leads nowhere but this account from what I know of Douglass rings true.
On Thursday January 13, 1870 The New Era made its appearance in Washington, DC with the backing of Frederick Douglass, a newspaperman lest we forget.
The paper’s name was derived from the abolitionist newspaper The National Era which was published weekly in Washington from 1847 to 1860 under the editorship of Gamaliel Bailey and John Greenleaf Whittier. From 1851 to 1852 it published Uncle Tom’s Cabin in serial form. During the Pearl Affair, the largest planned escape of slaves in American history, in 1848 a mob almost destroyed their offices.
Plans to start up a “colored paper” in Washington, DC were in the works in the immediate years after the Civil War with folks like George T. Downing urging Frederick Douglass to take a leading role. Douglass, after running three previous papers, has been described as the reluctant editor. This is true.
A couple days after The New Era paper appeared on the city’s streets, the Baltimore Sun‘s “Washington Letter” ran a paragraph acknowledging the launch of the “colored people’s paper.”
“The New Era made its appearance this morning. As heretofore state, it is to be the organ of the colored people of the country. The editor is Rev. Sella Martin; corresponding editor Frederick Douglass. The first issue contains a card from Douglas, stating that pressure of his business prevented him from sending an editorial this week. Three white and one colored printer perform the work of composition.” [The colored printer being Fred, Jr.]
By the end of the year the paper had problems. Promises were made to Frederick Douglass that were apparently not kept and Douglass ended up going all in, anteing up his hard-earned dollars to ensure the paper’s survival.
In February 1871 the District of Columbia Organic Act become law, consolidating the governments of the city, Georgetown, and Washington County. As a Republican man in what was then a Republican city, Douglass was considered a leading candidate for the position of non-voting Delegate. Douglass wasn’t sitting on his hands.
Before moving to Washington Douglass was widely known on both sides of the Atlantic for his outspokenness on the page and lecture stage. However influential in political and literacy circles, not everyone agreed with Douglass’ advocacy and the positions his paper, The New Era / New National Era took in demanding equal rights under the law for freedmen and women. Douglass, a man who came up in the streets of 1830s Jacksonian Baltimore but came of age in Rochester, New York, would often remind folks, “Washington was an old slave city.”
That said, I find Douglass involvement with the New Era/New National Era/New National Era-Citizen another overlooked dynamic of his time in Washington, DC. Foner, Quarles, and Deidrich give it a fair shake. McFeely’s gross negligence and slothful treatment of the paper is downright blasphemous. (About a decade ago there was a panel at the DC Historical Studies Conference on Douglass and his DC paper but at the time I was still a teenager on my own come up so I missed it. I have been unsuccessful in contacting one of the panel’s participants to find out what was said and presented.)
In all the treatments of Douglass and his DC paper in books, academic journals, and other published material looking backwards I’ve never come across what looks to be an arson attempt on the paper’s offices.
In late May 1871 this item shows up in our trusted Baltimore Sun “Washington Letter” column…
“About noon to-day the printers in the office of the New Era newspaper, on Eleventh street, near Pennsylvania avenue, saw smoke coming up through the floor from the pawnbrokership of Issac and Lehrman Abrahams, on the floor below. The police were at one notified, and broke open the doors, when the discovered a large pile of rags and other light material piled up on the floor and burning. The material has been previously saturated with kerosene. The fire was extinguished, and as the two Abrahams were seen to leave the shop a few minutes previously, they were at once arrested on the charge of arson.”
Whew. OK. What does this say? Were the Abrahams trying to arson their own business to collect insurance, trying to burn down the offices of the New Era, or just crazy pyromaniacs?
A quick review of my own files of the the May 25th, June 1, and June 8th editions of the New Era didn’t reveal any mention of this failed arson attempt. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there and I overlooked it. I will do another review soon and will see what I can find in the Evening Star from May 1871 down at the Washingtoniana Division.
All in all, this might be not be nefarious but as they say where there’s smoke there’s fire.
To be continued…