Frederick Douglass Brought to Life
By: Karen Lyon [November, Hill Rag]
When the statue of Frederick Douglass finally assumes its rightful place in the US Capitol, no one will be cheering louder than John Muller. Yet the author of “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia” was not always an expert on the famous abolitionist leader. Spurred by a friend’s questions during a visit to Cedar Hill, Douglass’s home in Anacostia, Muller taught himself “enough about Frederick Douglas for a lifetime. Yet around every corner,” he writes, “I came across a new connection he had, or a helping hand he extended.”
Focusing on Douglass’s years in Washington, from 1863 until his death in 1895, Muller draws on previously untapped sources, as well as anecdotes and quotes from Douglass himself, to first paint a vivid portrait of the former slave’s boyhood in Baltimore and his early political life in Washington, where he held a short-lived but influential Presidential appointment on the Territorial Government’s legislative council.
Douglass then went on to serve as editor of the “New National Era,” an African-American newspaper that was “one of the first organs of early civil rights,” as a US Marshall facing the challenges of post-Civil War DC, and as a Trustee of Howard University. In 1872, he bought a house on A Street NE, but five years later, “with an ever-present bundle of grandchildren at their Capitol Hill home and frequent guests passing through,” he sought more space, purchasing Cedar Hill across the Eastern Branch in Uniontown (now Anacostia).
Muller does not shy away from the controversies surrounding Douglass, including his marriage to a white woman, but he also includes reminiscences from his grandchildren, who describe an aging Douglass getting down on all fours “where he would play the role of the family horse.” These personal touches, as well as a rich trove of photographs, make this well-researched book a pleasure to read. As one reviewer notes, “Muller brings Douglass to life as few have done or even attempted.”
John Muller is a DC-based journalist, historian, playwright, and policy analyst, as well as co-founder of DreamCity Theatre Group. The author will sign and discuss “Frederick Douglass in Washington” at the Hill Center on Fri., Nov. 30, from 7 to 9pm.