Book Review: “Douglass in His Own Time”

cover _ Douglass in His Own TimeIn a series of books published over the last fifteen years by the University of Iowa Press prominent literary men and women from the 19th century such as Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman have been remembered by those that knew them best; not modern historians but their contemporaries who knew them as they lived.

Joining rank in the collection is Douglass in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates,” ably and succinctly compiled by John Earnest, Chair of the English Department at the University of Delaware.

Douglass in His Own Time is a welcome and timely addition to the truly limited scholarship on Douglass, poised to swell as we approach the bicentennial of his birth in 2018.

In the introduction Earnest offers, “One might say that Douglass is not merely celebrated for his story; he is also contained by it, reduced to the confines of a heroic struggle against slavery and his attainment of a glorious freedom through which he continued his antislavery work. Less a living presence than an inspiring tale, Frederick Douglass remains relatively unknown even to many of those who celebrate his achievements. Douglass in His Own Time offers an introduction to Douglass the man by those who knew him – but even in these writings Douglass can seem elusive, shadowed by the fame that enters every room before him.”

The book includes an introduction, 13 photos and prints (not cited with the most exacting detail or captions), a chronology, 43 unique entries and an index. The recollections span the entirety of Douglass’s life from his early years as a slave at Wye House to his toil as a rising star and agent on the anti-slavery circuit to his controversial second marriage and travels abroad to his waning years as a commencement speaker.

Well-known individuals appear from William Wells Brown to Paul Laurence Dunbar to Elizabeth Cady Stanton alongside lesser-known reformists, journalists and educators such as “Grace Greenwood,Cordelia RayJames McCune Smith, and Kelly Miller. While expansive in its selection it is in no way inclusive of all sources nor does it pledge to be. Absent are reminiscences from any members of Douglass’s family as well as two women, Ida Wells and Mary Church Terrell (as well as her husband Robert H. Terrell), whose activism influenced the direction of 20th century American life.

The range of source material gathered by Earnest demonstrates the many public lives and various activist causes Douglass embraced and embodied over more than a half-century on both sides of the Atlantic and from Massachusetts to Rochester to Washington to Alabalama. Abolitionists, suffragists, editors and members of the church are all appropriately accounted for in this remembrance of Douglass

Any limitations aside, the book promises to be enjoyed by both general Douglassonian and specialists. For those building their Douglass-related library, your collection is not complete unless you have Douglass in His Own Time. 

– JM

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SAVE DATE: April 15 –> Douglassonian Robert Levine speaks on forthcoming book, “Frederick Douglass’s Lives”

MD & FD _ Levine book cover

Robert Levine, Professor of English at the University of Maryland, will give a talk drawing from his forthcoming book, Frederick Douglass’s Lives (Harvard University Press, 2016).

Where: 1957 E Street NW, City View Room (on George Washington University Campus) [Nearest Metro: Farragut West – Blue / Orange]

When: 6PM

About Robert S. Levine:

The impressively prolific Bob Levine has been an influential force in American and African American literature for thirty years, and more recently has contributed important new work to the burgeoning field of hemispheric American literature. His prominent publications, such as 2008’s Dislocating Race and Nation, 1997’s Martin DelanyFrederick Douglassand the Politics of Representative Identity, and 1989’s Conspiracy and Romance: Studies in Brockden Brown, Cooper, Hawthorne, and Melville, cover an array of themes critical to an understanding of 19th-century American literature. In addition, Levine’s numerous scholarly editions of Melville, Hawthorne, Martin Delany, William Wells Brown, and Harriet Beecher Stowe have helped restore lesser known works to wider audiences.

Levine is a highly visible figure in literary circles, sitting on the editorial boards of American Literary History, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, and J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, serving as General Editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, and as editor of numerous volumes of collected criticism, including Hemispheric American Studies (co-edited with Caroline Levander) and The New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville.  His recent awards include a 2012-13 National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship and a 2013-14 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. He was recently named a Faculty Fellow at Texas A&M’s Institute for Advanced Study.

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Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association – Essay Scholarship Contest 2015 [Due March 18!]

FREDERICK DOUGLASS MEMORIAL & HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

ESSAY SCHOLARSHIP CONTEST 2015

Each year the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association (“FDMHA”) sponsors an Essay Scholarship Contest and invites senior high school contestants in Washington, DC or in Maryland or Virginia within a 50 mile radius of Washington, DC to consider the relevance of Mr. Douglass’ legacy by writing an essay on a carefully researched subject that incorporates the writings and the life history of Mr. Douglass.

The winner of the competitive annual contest is awarded a $3,000 prize. A second place winner receives $2,000 and a third place winner receives $1,000.

The FDMHA Essay Scholarship Contest offers a meaningful opportunity for contestants to develop and enhance research, writing, and critical thinking skills while they deepen their understanding and appreciation of Mr. Douglass.

Topic Guidelines

Contestants are asked to write an original and creative essay of not less than 1,500 words addressing the following topic:

“What Would Frederick Douglass state to the members of the 2016 Democratic or Republican Convention to inspire the Party?”

The contestant must choose only one political party to whom Mr. Douglass would deliver an address that demonstrates an understanding of the life and contributions of Mr. Douglass.

Eligibility

The contest is open to senior high school students attending public schools in Washington DC, or in the State of Maryland or the Commonwealth of Virginia, within a 50 mile radius of the District of Columbia. The students must be accepted into post-secondary studies prior to receiving any monies. Scholarship funds will be sent directly to the school that the student is enrolled in the fall of 2015 or the spring semester of 2016.

The contest deadline is Wednesday, March 18, 2015.  Click here for additional information, including the full list of requirements. Any questions, please contact Juanita Ferguson, (202) 544-6474.

To learn more about The Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, enacted June 6, 1900 by the United States Congress to preserve for posterity the memory of the life and character of Frederick Douglass, visit http://frederickdouglassmha.org/ or email: info@frederickdouglassmha.org.

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“Colored American,” Washington, D.C.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

The Colored American began publishing in 1893 under the ownership of Edward Elder Cooper, who had distinguished himself as the founder of the Indianapolis Freeman, the first illustrated African American newspaper. The Colored American operated its presses at 459 C Street in Washington’s northwest quadrant. The weekly publication promoted itself as a national Negro newspaper and it carried lengthy feature stories on the achievements of African Americans across the country. Publisher Cooper relied on contributions from such prominent black journalists such as John E. Bruce and Richard W. Thompson to sustain the national scope of his paper, which readers could obtain for a $2.00 annual subscription.

The Colored American included a regular column called “City Paragraphs” that highlighted events in the nation’s capital and routinely featured articles on religion, politics, education, military affairs, and black fraternal organizations. The paper distinguished itself by its use of original reporting rather than relying on boiler-plate, filler material taken from other publications. Like other papers, however, it included advertising, much of it geared to black consumers.

The paper ran editorials and political cartoons that championed improved social conditions in the black community and expanded rights for African Americans. Although it held a reputation for political independence, the Colored American was actually staunchly Republican. Cooper allied himself and his paper with Booker T. Washington, and the publisher looked to the famous black educator for financial assistance. Another financial backer was lecturer and activist Mary Church Terrell, a noted African American civil rights advocate who wrote a column for the paper titled “The Women’s World,” under the pseudonym Euphemia Kirk.

Unfortunately for the Colored American, Cooper proved to be a poor businessman and, because of some unorthodox business practices and extensive debts to creditors, financial problems plagued the paper. It ceased publication in November 1904. – Library of Congress, Chronicling America

SOURCE:

Library of Congress Prints & Photographs; Call Number: LOT 11303

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The “Bee”, a Negro business place, Washington, D.C. [LOC photo]

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

SOURCE:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs; Call Number: LOT 11303

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Paul Kendrick presents on “Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass” [DC Public Library, 3 Feb, 2015]

This two-minute clip deals with the differing missions of Douglass and Lincoln, the limitations and possibilities Douglass saw in the Emancipation Proclamation and some of the most meaningful stories Paul and Stephen Kendrick, authors of Douglass and Lincoln, found about Douglass’ soldier sons and others.

Video by Chris Bryant.

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Zoe Trodd, “Picturing Frederick Douglass”

Zoe Trodd, Professor and Chair of American Literature in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham, draws on new research into previously uncollected photographs of Douglass to show that he was the most photographed American of the 19th century. She argues that in sitting for more photographs than any of his peers, Douglass was using photographs in multiple ways: to assert black humanity in place of the slave “thing”; to show how authentic representations could break down racial barriers; to create a black public persona within the abolitionist culture of dissent.

Trodd also outlines the visual legacy of these 160+ photographs, including protest paintings and drawings with the anti-lynching and desegregation movement, statues and sculptures from 1899 to 2010, cartoons in the 20th-century black press, and murals and street art in the North, South and West, especially murals celebrating a broader history of African American dissent. She will consider which 19th-century photographs had the most impact in this 20th-century visual legacy, address the politics of adapting the youthful, stern Douglass of earlier photographs versus the elderly, sage Douglass of later photographs, and ask whether Douglass photographs had an even greater legacy in visual culture than his famous writings had in literary texts.

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