Archive for May, 2012
Around the corner from the White House is the Metropolitan African Methodist Church at 1518 M Street NW. Inside the historic church certain pews denote famous black Americans. No stranger to Metropolitan AME, it’s only fit and proper that on the inner aisle of the pews on the right side (looking towards the altar) there is a small unassuming plaque with simply, “FREDERICK DOUGLASS.”
Douglass was a regular lecturer at Metropolitan. His funeral services were held at Metropolitan.
One of the greatest writers of the late 19th century was Stephen Crane. One of the greatest Americans of the 19th century was Frederick Douglass. What do these men have in common? Both inspired and created “rows,” a loosely defined 19th century version of a clique, crew, set, gang, or MOB.
A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil’s Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him. His infantile countenance was livid with fury. His small body was writhing in the delivery of great, crimson oaths.
Some Rum Alley children now came forward. The party stood for a moment exchanging vainglorious remarks with Devil’s Row. A few stones were thrown at long distances, and words of challenge passed between small warriors. Then the Rum Alley contingent turned slowly in the direction of their home street. They began to give, each to each, distorted versions of the fight. Causes of retreat in particular cases were magnified. Blows dealt in the fight were enlarged to catapultian power, and stones thrown were alleged to have hurtled with infinite accuracy. Valor grew strong again, and the little boys began to swear with great spirit.
“Ah, we blokies kin lick deh hull damn Row,” said a child, swaggering.
What does this have to do with Douglass? From the March 20th, 1877 The Daily Critic…
“A Fred. Douglass Row.
This morning, about 10 o’clock, Archie Johnson and John Craig, both colored, were standing on the corner of Seventh and D streets northwest, discussing the political situation in general and the appointment of Fred Douglass as Marshal of the District in particular. Archie is a strong Douglass man, and Johnson believes that the present Marshal has no right to hold his position. Argument failing to convince, they took to blows, and had a lively time in pummeling each other about the head, until Officers Grant, of the Sixth precinct arrived and put in his argument, which was to take them to Police Court, where Judge Snell settled the dispute by fining them each $5 for affray.”
Over at “Streets of Washington” writer-researcher-historian John DeFerrari discusses a well-known example of racism, as experienced by Lewis Henry Douglass, in postbellum Washington, DC. With a detailed history of the Government Printing Office, DeFerrari gives mention to the Columbia Typographical Union’s 1869 refusal to admit Lewis Douglass, thus lowering his wages.
Douglass, a veteran of the Civil War who had stormed the beaches at the famed Second Battle of Fort Wagner, was no slouch as a typesetter, having apprenticed as a young lad with his brothers, Frederick, Jr. & Charles, in their father’s printing offices for The North Star, Douglass’ Weekly, and Douglass’ Monthly.
Receiving discriminatory treatment while working at the GPO, Lewis left soon thereafter to work with his younger bother, Frederick, Jr., and his father Frederick, on the The New Era, which first hit the streets of Washington on Thursday, January 13, 1870.
Lewis and Frederick, Jr. would form their own printing company, the Douglass Brothers.
FRED DOUGLASS SEES A COLORED GAME. _ The announcement that the Pythian of Philadelphia would play the Alert, of Washington, D.C. (both colored organizations) on the 16th inst., attracted quite a concourse of spectators to the grounds of the Athletic, Seventeen street and Columbia avenue, Philadelphia. The game progressed finely until the beginning of the fifth inning, when a heavy shower of rain set in, compelling the umpire, Mr. E. H. Hayhurt, of the Athletic, to call game. The score stood at the end of the fourth inning: Alter 21; Pythian, 16, The hitting and fielding of both clubs were very good. Mr. Frederick Douglass was present and viewed the game from the reporters’ stand. His son is a member of the Alert.
During his day, some people questioned how Frederick Douglass spent his hard-earned money. We’d have to say Douglass spent his money how he saw best fit, including donating a thousand dollars to Howard University in the late summer of 1874.
Frederick Douglass attends first Union Alumni Association of Howard University and toasts “self-made men”, [National Republican, Feb 27, 1886]
Frederick Douglass was a self-made man about town during his years in Washington. He was a frequent guest of the White House the through various Presidential administrations after the Civil War, he served as adviser to both black and progressive white Senators and Congress men, he often attended and lectured at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, helping to raise money. In between his multiple speaking engagements and travels around the country, Douglass served on the Board of Trustees of Hoard University for nearly a quarter century. On behalf of the University Douglass raised money though appeals to Congress and outreach to the same network of institutions and person that had supported him during his abolitionist efforts before the war.
Douglass’ service to Howard University has been woefully overlooked in the evaluation of his enduring legacy to the city. Through his advocacy and championing of the city’s public colored school system and his lasting contributions to Howard University, Douglass was a steadfast, relentless advocate of equal education efforts for black Washingtonians. His record of charity should no longer be minimized, discarded as an after thought. Douglass service should be explored as a source of pride to the early importances of the education of both freedmen and their children in Washington, DC.
In late February 1886 Howard University, then almost two decades since its charter, recognized its growing network of alumni with its first annual banquet. Douglass attended and was asked to speak. Often called to deliver the featured address, here he offered a toast.
Hon. Frederick Douglass was selected to respond to the toast “Self-made Men.”
“I am not opposed to personalities,” said Mr. Douglass, “even when they are employed in the form of delicate insinuation. I think I see something of this offense in the call upon me to respond in behalf of self-made men. If you mean to insinuate that I am not a gentlemen and a scholar, like others around this delightful board, I resent the calumny, and prove my title to be here by the card with “LL. D.” in large letters, affixed with my name. But Mr. President, I will not, where I am so well-known, attempt to pass myself off for what I am not. I plead guilty at once to the implied charges. Upon the whole, I am rather proud of it, and in this last remark, you will perhaps say that I betray my peculiar origin, for of all men in the world, self-made men are the product of the attainments. Henry Clapp once said on Horace Greeley that he was a self-made man and worshipped his maker. Properly speaking, there are no self-made men in the world. Sidney Smith once said, while speaking of repudiation, that he never saw an American that he did not feel like stripping him, giving his hat to one creditor, his cost to another, and his books to another. So I may say of all self-made men. They have all begged, borrowed,, or stolen. There never was a self-made man, however well made, who would not have been better made with the same exertion by the ordinary helps of schools and colleges. Nevertheless, self-made men are entitled to a large measure of credit. They rise often, not only without favoring circumstances, but in decisive defiance of all efforts to keep them down.
“Flung overboard on the broad ocean of life, without oars or life preservers, they bravely buffet the billows by their own sinewy arms, and swim in safety where other men, supplied with all the appliances which wealth and power can give, despair and go down. Such men as these, whether we find them at home or abroad, whether professors of plowmen, whether of Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-African origin, are self-made men, and are entitled to some respect because of their manly origin. It is the glory of the United States that such men are abundant. America is the nursery of such men. The explanation of the abundances is found in two facts: First, the respectability of labor, and secondly, the fact we have no privileged classes. We throw every man upon his own resources. We care not who was his father, or who was his mother.”
We ask not for his lineage,
We ask not for his name;
It manliness be in his heart,
He noble birth may claim.
We ask not from what land he came,
Nor where his youth was nursed;
It pure the stream, it matters not
The spot from whence it burst
President William W. Patton then responded to the sentiment, “Howard University.” He congratulated the alumni on the interest they showed in their alma mater. He passed a tribute on the founder of the university. The college was founded on the broadest principles and educated every one without regards to sex or race. The university has done a grand work, and in nineteen years or existence 3,000 students have been admitted to the various departments, and there have sent forth 250 ministers of Christianity, about the same number of lawyers, and over 400 physicians. The university has now survived the dangers of infancy, the opposition of foes, the indifference of the prejudiced, and the reverses of financial disasters. Its property to-day free from debt and the 420 students are making progress. The university has a promising future. Public bodies and private benefactors feel safe in aiding a permanent and successful institution. Students in all parts of the country are learning of the advantages which the university offers, and at present thirty states are represented among them.
NOTE: At the time of the address there were thirty-eight states in the country, and Washington, DC as the Federal District, which had been sending students to the University since its earliest days.
To any Minister of the Gospel authorized to Celebrate Marriages in the District of Columbia, Greeting
You are hereby LICENSED to solemnize the RITES OF MARRIAGE between
Frederick Douglass, of Washington, DC AND Helen Pitts, of New York
if you find no lawful impediment thereto; and having so done you are commanded to appear in the Clerk’s Office of the Supreme Court of said District and certify the same.
Witness my hand and the seal of said Court this 24 day of January 1884
There were only four people present at the exchange of vows between Douglass and Pitts. Douglass’ children literally learned about the marriage through the papers. Pitts’ father, an abolitionist in Western New York who had invited a younger Douglass into his home, disowned his daughter for now marrying Douglass.
Thanks is in order to the DC Archives for generously providing this document.