Archive for May 18th, 2012
Enter the lobby of One Judiciary Square. Go through the metal detector. Look up and to your left. Frederick Douglass sees you and he is not playing.
The 7-foot, 850-pound bronze likeness of the Lion of Anacostia atop a marble base is fired up, no mercy in his eyes.
According to one of the best writers over on 15th Street NW, Michael Ruane, the statue depicts Douglass, “bearded and broad-shouldered, standing by a lectern as he delivers his famous 1852 speech about slavery and the Fourth of July.”
In a 2008 story Ruane wrote, Douglass’ “right hand clutches a document. His left hand grips the lectern. His frock coat is open, and his left heel is raised as if he is moving forward, about to make a point.”
Along with a statue of D.C.’s famed 18th century planner Pierre L’Enfant, the representation of Douglass was supposed to rest in National Statuary Hall, in the Capitol building.
Since the city is not state, as stipulates the United States Constitution, only legislation would allow Douglass and L’Enfant to join the current crowd of 100 statues (2 from each state) in Statuary Hall.
As my friend William Alston-El said about the Lion walking the streets of Anacostia earlier this year, “Man, Fred was too radical for these folks. They’ll recognize him but only so much. Because they know he wasn’t playing.”
Family of Frederick Douglass acknowledgement of “letters and telegrams of condolence,” Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C., March 4, 1895
To the many friends whose letters and telegrams of condolence have been most gratefully received, and which have been sent in such numbers as to forbid an immediate personal reply, we, the family of the Frederick Douglass, desire to tender our heartfelt acknowledgement and thank them for their expressions of sympathy for our sorrow and especially for the testimony they have thus rendered of their reverent regard for the great soul gone.
ROSETTA DOUGLASS SPRAGUE
LEWIS H. DOUGLASS
CHARLES R. DOUGLASS
MARCH 4, 1895
Vote for Frederick Douglass (!!) to be the subject of special portrait at the Smithsonian (voting ends May 26)
Much respect due to iconoclast Samuel Morse (who has a head nod plaque on lower 7th Street NW), trailblazing Cuban-singer Celia Cruz, suffragist Alice Paul, and the most decorated hero of WWII, who with his brothers-in-arms went to hell and back and lived to tell, Audie Murphy, but our vote is going to Frederick Douglass.
Voting to select one of these five historical figures to be the subject of a special Robert Weingarten produced portrait closes next Saturday. VOTE HERE (FD needs some votes…your vote!)
Rightfully headlining Douglass as an, “Orator, Activist, and Bad, Bad Man,” Christopher Wilson, Director of Daily Programs and the Program in African American Culture at the National Museum of American History, offers a refreshing take on the Lion of Anacostia that is worth special attention.
We generally don’t remember Douglass as we should. His stoic and stately presence and unimpeachable words stand out like a chiseled, motionless effigy. The Frederick Douglass we meet today in films, museums, and popular culture is generally a black “founding father,” with the attendant uninspiring, respectful persona of most depictions of Washington or Jefferson. I think of the portrayal of Douglass in the film Glory in which he dryly, properly, and very firmly offers his prediction of how the black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts will honorably fight. I think of actors at museums and Civil War reenactments proclaiming the amazingly eloquent words that captivated audiences, but without the fire that made Douglass famous.
This overly honorific public memory of Douglass belies a life entirely defined by action—sometimes action-hero type action. Frederick Douglass was a fighter.
Well said, well said. And cot damn right.