Archive for July 22nd, 2012
HON. FREDERICK DOUGLASS
My connection with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church began in 1838. This was soon after my escape from slavery and my arrival in New Bedford. Before leaving Maryland I was a member of the Methodist Church in Dallas Street, Baltimore, and should have joined a branch of that Church in New Bedford, Mass., had I not discovered the spirit of prejudice and the unholy connection of that Church with slavery. Hence I joined a little branch of Zion, of which Rev. William Serrington was the minister. I found him a man of deep piety, and of high intelligence. His character attracted me, and I received from him much excellent advice and brotherly sympathy. When he was removed to another station Bishop Rush sent us a very different man, in the person of Rev. Peter Ross, a man of high character, but of very little education. After him came Rev. Thomas James. I was deeply interested not only in these ministers, but also in Revs. Jehill Beman, Dempsy Kennedy, John P. Thompson, and Leven Smith, all of whom visited and preached in the little schoolhouse on Second Street, New Bedford, while I resided there. My acquaintance with Bishop Rush was also formed while I was in New Bedford.
It is impossible for me to tell how far my connection with these devoted men influenced my career. As early as 1839 I obtained a license from the Quarterly Conference as a local preacher, and often occupied the pulpit by request of the preacher in charge. No doubt that the exercise of my gifts in this vocation, and my association with the excellent men to whom I have referred, helped to prepare me for the wider sphere of usefulness which I have since occupied. It was from this Zion church that I went forth to the work of delivering my brethren from bondage, and this new vocation, which separated me from New Bedford and finally so enlarged my views of duty, separated me also from the calling of a local preacher. My connection with the little church continued long after I was in the antislavery field. I look back to the days I spent in little Zion, New Bedford, in the several capacities of sexton, steward, class leader, clerk, and local preacher, as among the happiest days of my life.
One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; or, The Centennial of African Methodism, by James Walker Hood, 1895 (Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill)
Scholars and independent researchers of Frederick Douglass have all most likely come across a reference or two in their reading of the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, in which Douglass independently participated at least twice. During his second reading with the group, in late 1877 Douglass performed the role of “Shylock” in The Merchant of Venice.
In an unfinished letter dated December 21, 1877 to “My dear Friend” Douglass writes, “I spoke to a very [illegible] and elegant audience at Mt. Pleasant Wednesday night, and read with the Uniontown Shakespeare Club last night.
The play was the Merchant of Venice and my part [was] Shylock. This is my second meeting with the Club. I find it very pleasant and entertaining and I have no one at my home to go with me and I often fancy that I am losing one half of the happiness of such occasions because in all such matters I am alone.”
For anyone who has taken a tour of Cedar Hill and paid close attention they have most likely seen (or heard a Ranger point it out) the large print of Othello and Desdemona, from Shakspeare’s Othello, prominently displayed just above the mantle in the living room.
Tireless advocate of the cause and public intellectual C.R. Gibbs knows from personal experience Douglass’ love of Shakespeare. Decades ago Gibbs had the unique pleasure of reading from Douglass’ personal Shakespeare collection.
[ED Note: In speaking with friends in Anacostia I have mentioned this club and Douglass’ involvement with it. The near uniform response is, “We need to start the club up again!” Huh, man.]