David Blight is an intellectual disgrace to Frederick Douglass. And has been for more than a decade. (Part 1)

David Blight - error _ 8.22.2018As the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial is realized within mere weeks there are a bevy of events, lectures and meetings planned. While municipal governments, teachers, artists, community organizers and everyday Douglassonians have answered the bell and planned substantial, meaningful and memorable programs, many of the gatherings will be purely ceremonial, not addressing the larger issues in the barely existent field of Douglassoniana Studies. Let alone the all but unknown local legacy of Douglass as an Anacostian and Washingtonian.

Yale History Professor David W. Blight is the largest and most significant violator of the legacy, heritage and memory of Frederick Douglass.

Put simply, Blight has led the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition since 2004. In this time he has done NOTHING to build a lasting Douglass scholarly infrastructure. He is a disgrace and a betrayal to the Douglassoniana scholarly tradition of John W. Blassingame, Benjamin Quarles, Philip Foner and local journalist-historian Dickson J. Preston.

Blight has not used his position at Yale nor his service to various, and often celebration by, member-based historical-oriented organizations nor his appointment to influential boards and positions:

1) to organize and begin the publication of a Douglass scholarly journal

2) to organize a semi-annual, annual, biennial, triennial or quadrennial academic conference

3) create an endowed grant or scholarship for university students or independent scholars to study Douglass and advance new areas of scholarship


For nearly a generation Blight, a speculative “memory” historian, has been safely and comfortably stroking his own pretentious ego and those around him in the Ivory Tower off the collective guilt over the forgotten memory of what Frederick Douglass meant to the lost and lonely. 

Throughout his life Douglass:

1) organized and published a series of newspapers in Rochester and Washington City

2) attended anti-slavery, women’s rights, colored press and temperance and religious-based meetings and conventions

3) raised money, as well as donated his own funds, in the support of institutions and individuals


I need not go into details of the creation of my own book and genuflect on my own experiences as a youngish Germanic-American street reporter and historian within the interior community of Old Anacostia.

I do not have the capacity and immense sense of imagined and actual privilege David Blight has to safely pontificate poetic about Douglass unchallenged in one Ivory Tower to another Ivy Tower to the next Ivory Tower. I don’t have that sense of entitlement. I can’t.

A friend of mine, a community journalist, was killed May 27, 2015. Not a day goes by I don’t think of her.

Later today I have to go down to 16th Street SE to show the fellas the mural design planned for the corner store at 16th & W. And pay my respects to a young lady killed about a week past outside the corner store where I get my coffee when coming and going to community meetings.

The life of a community historian is not as easy as having a TA grade papers.

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  1. #1 by Tom Calarco on July 20, 2018 - 9:38 pm

    John: Very interesting. I know little about Blight aside from his disdain for the Underground Railroad. I like this comment: “For nearly a generation Blight, a speculative historian, has been safely and comfortably stroking his own pretentious ego and those around him in the Ivory Tower of the collective guilt over the forgotten memory of what Frederick Douglass meant to the lost and lonely.” It captures the attitude of many academics I’ve met. For five years I tried to get an NEH grant to basically expose the failings of Blight’s views on the UGRR without success based on the judgment of academics who have not studied the UGRR nearly as deeply as myself. Keep up your efforts and the truth will win out.

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