John Muller has done America a favor nonpareil. With his new book, Frederick Douglass’ Washington: The Lion of Anacostia, Mr. Muller brings Douglass to life as few have done or even attempted. The Lion of Anacostia, as it turns out, loved to play violin for his guests, mentored countless numbers of youth, and could eulogize American soldiers and never leave a dry eye in his audience. No more effective advocate for black advancement existed during his lifetime, yet he frequently counseled personal responsibility and merit as the best means to overcome bigotry.
Mr. Muller’s volume offers a strong narrative to explain the civil rights movement of the 19th Century, a movement that inevitably led to the successes of Martin Luther King in the 20th Century. Douglass, in Muller’s deft hands, was no two-dimensional figure, but a complex man who understood slavery in his bones and was determined to take America past it. Douglass never invited the extremes of pity or violence, but instead stood with other titans of abolitionism as a legalist who refused the entreaties of John Brown to arouse insurrection. If ever there was a post-racial civil rights advocate, Frederick Douglass is the one man who understood that character, discipline, and education, not the cheap appeals we know today as race-cards, would overcome the dry rot of racism. John Muller, through Frederick Douglass, has erected a mirror for America to look into and the reflection it casts is one all of us can be proud of.