Archive for May, 2012

Short video on Frederick & Anna Douglass in New Bedford, Mass.

Looks like this video was put together by the New Bedford Historical Society.


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Frederick Douglass accepts Howard University Board of Trustees appointment with conditions, June 27, 1871

With the exception of a handful of books on the history of Howard University, Frederick Douglass’ contributions to the early growth of “The Mecca” have been ignored and are unknown. Douglass never mentions Howard University in his 1881 biography, nor his 1892 update. Quarles, Foner, and McFeely provide few-to-no insights. Rayford Logan’s Howard University: The First Hundred Years 1867-1967, I’ve found, is the most comprehensive work to touch on Douglass and Howard, especially Douglass’ 1875 nomination to serve as President of Howard University.

Scrolling through the HU Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center last week I hope to begin the process of shedding light on the important, yet overlooked, assistance Douglass gave to the evolution and development of the school on the hilltop above Boundary Street.

On June 27th, 1871, at the 79th meeting of HU’s Board of Trustees, a letter was received from Douglass. At the previous board meeting on June 13th, Douglass was elected, along with three others, as a new member of the Board of Trustees.

“A communication was received from Hon. Frederick Douglass accepting the appointment of Trustee with conditions. On motion the Secretary was directed to reply that the Board desire he should remain a Trustee although he may not be able to attend all the meetings.”

Around the same time, June 1871, Douglass steps down from his position as a member of the city’s Legislative Council.

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“ARAB” tells readers of the Washington Bee [October 19, 1889] “Give the old man credit” and lists “material aid” Frederick Douglass has tendered to “young Negroes”

FREDERICK DOUGLASS WHAT IS SAID HE HAS DONE FOR THE NEGRO NORTH – GIVE THE OLD MAN CREDIT To the “Colored Veteran:” William Belkizer, of New York City, Preston Jackson, of Oxford, Ohio, Jermiah Perkins, of Rochester, N.Y., young colored men were taken by Mr. Frederick Douglass into his family the same as his own sons – fed, clothed, and taught the printers trade – all at Mr. Douglass’ expense and before the war. Nathaniel Moore, another young Negro was brought up and schooled by Mr. Douglass, Miss Mary Smith of Troy, N.Y., now married and residing in California, was also reared and educated in Mr. Douglass’ family along with his own children. Since the war, William E. Winston, a young Negro refugee from Alabama, was taken by Mr. Douglass at the age of fourteen, kept in school for five years in Rochester, N.Y., put to printers trade, and at the time of his death was receiving $90.00 per month at the Government Printing Office. Charles Mitchell of Maryland, up to a few years ago, made his home with Mr. Douglass and was kept in school for several years. Only last week paid Mr. Douglass a visit, and he is doing well. A score of other young colored men, if they cared to own the truth, can testify to the material aid given them by Mr. Douglass time after time, while trying to learn a trade or get an education. No enterprise of any importance, gotten up by colored people of his country, either before or since the war, but what has had his material support – not one. These facts are pretty well known to colored people worth considering, with perhaps a few exceptions, but as a correspondent of “The Washington Bee” asks “how many colored men and women and has he ever helped to get an education or [learn] a trade? and what public enterprise has he ever encouraged with his vas means?” I thought to recall the foregoing instances coming under my personal observation. I don’t know that Mr. Douglass is under any more obligation to educate other people’s children than any other man. I don’t know of a single obligation that he is under to his race (so called.) I don’t know that he ever held a position of any profit by their votes of encouragement. If ever a man in this world can lay claim to being self-made, that man is Mr. Douglass. He has never claimed leadership. He has never been an office seeker for himself, though he has a right to accept office, or say what he liked when asked. The young Negroes of today, who are spending their time and talent in trying to bring him into disrepute with his people, are the very ones who should be the most thankful for his past services, for had it not been for his early efforts, and those associated with him they would to-day be on the plantation of their parents former masters. I trust I may be pardoned for taking up so much of your limited space in my reply to the gentlemen from Albany, whose non de plume is “Saracen.” ARAB.

[Is ARAB Helen Pitts, Rosetta Douglass Sprague…?]


Washington Bee, 19 October, 1889, 1.

* This was printed in numerous papers throughout the country.*

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Lewis H. Douglass appointed a Notary Public by President Harrison [Cleveland Gazette, July 27, 1889]

Library of Congress

The ups and downs, comings and goings, rumors and speculations of Frederick Douglass and his family were widely reported not just in the pages of The Washington Bee, and other black newspapers in the city (as well as every “mainstream” city daily and weekly), but also black press outlets throughout the country from Indianapolis to Huntsville, Alabama to New York City. Invaluable information not widely known about Douglass and his family is captured in print, as well as a perspective that can be unflinchingly laudatory one week and harshly critical the next.

“Lewis H. Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass, has been appointed a Notary Public for the District of Columbia by President Harrison. There are two of three more of the Douglass family to be provided for and then other colored men will stand a chance. Perhaps Fred has some white relatives – on his wife’s side – who wish office.”

The news item directly below…

“There were fifty-six new police appointed in Washington, D.C., July 1, and not withstanding many colored men applied all were rejected. The colored people are about one-third the population of the District and pay taxes on $10,000,000 worth of real estate. The same thing was done recently in both Detroit and Cleveland.”

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Metropolitan A.M.E. Church presents Frederick Douglass with Bible before departing to Haiti [Cleveland Gazette, September 7, 1889]

Library of Congress

Cleveland Gazette, September 7, 1889

“The members of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church of Washington, D.C. presented Frederick Douglass a Bible last Sunday morning after the pastor, Rev. J. G. Mitchell, formerly of Ohio, had finished up his special sermon relating to Douglass’ ability and labor. He and his son Lewis worship at this church.”

Soon thereafter receiving the Bible Douglass would depart the country to present his credentials in Haiti as President Harrison’s U.S. minister resident and consul general, Republic of Haiti, and charge’ d’affaires, Santo Domingo.

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Frederick Douglass statue in the lobby at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW is not playing

John Muller

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.

Despite advocates (another 15th Street favorite, John Kelly) and legal efforts to move Douglass to the US Capitol, it looks like the Lion is staying where he is.

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.”

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Family of Frederick Douglass acknowledgement of “letters and telegrams of condolence,” Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C., March 4, 1895

Courtesy Library of Congress, Frederick Douglass Papers

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.








MARCH 4, 1895


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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!)

Courtesy LOC []

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.


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131 years ago, today, Frederick Douglass was confirmed as D.C. Recorder of Deeds

While interning at the National Archives’ Center for Legislative Archives in the summer of 2010, Daniel Rice stumbled upon an important document to Douglass-cana; 20th President James Garfield‘s (R) nomination of Frederick Douglass as D.C. Recorder of Deeds.

According to a post on “Rice on History,” (Daniel’s blog) the nomination (No. 352) was bunched among a slew of President Garfield’s cabinet nominations, all dated March 4th, 1881.

The nomination reads,

“To The Senate of the United States:

I nominate Frederick Douglass of the District of Columbia to be the Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia, vice George A. Sheridan who has resigned.”

On May 17, 1881, 131 years ago today, Douglass was confirmed by a 47-8 vote in the United States Senate. Make sure you check out the post on “Rice on History” to view photos of the actual voting tally.

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Check out Ghosts of DC’s post: “Election Day 1876”

Ghosts of DC is one of our compatriots. Check out their post “Election Day 1876: Shakespeare at the National, Real Estate Listings and Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel J. Tilden” HERE.

To nearly every modern historian the election of Rutherford B. Hayes marks the end of Reconstruction with the final withdrawal of Federal troops from South Carolina and Louisiana. Everyone likes to dump on President Hayes, including President Obama (and reportedly President Reagan before him). But in studying Hayes I’ve found that, as is true with anything and everything, there are nuances and complexities to the man who appointed Frederick Douglass US Marshal of the District of Columbia and stuck with him even against a groundswell of support calling for Douglass’ removal.

For those out there asking about the “Exodusters” question vis-à-vis Hayes and Douglass … we will get back to you soon.

In the meantime, check out our friend’s post HERE

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