Young W Street Douglassonians on front porch of Cedar Hill
Prof. David W. Blight
Department of History
320 York Street
New Haven, CT 06520-8324
My name is John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia (The History Press, 2012) which needs to be properly mentioned during your upcoming talks as the only existing book detailing Mr. Douglass’ largely unknown years in Washington City.
You know who I am.
When I first embarked upon writing my book in late 2011 I heard from many people you were at work on a biography on Mr. Douglass, which has still not been published all these years later. As a dutiful local historian and street reporter I sent you an email or two or three, along with a call, to let you know who I was and what I was endeavoring to do. I have the receipts.
As I moved forward with my research you were not particularly helpful or supportive of a young Douglassonian scholar. Other academics and “Douglass experts” were welcoming, helpful and offered assistance when I was trying to work through questions I had during the research process. The more I studied Mr. Douglass closely the more I realized how much of an abject mediocre scholar you are and which you remain today.
Mr. Douglass was for the youngsters, his whole life. He played baseball with neighborhood children at Cedar Hill. Students from Howard University were always welcome at Cedar Hill. You are a betrayal and disgrace to this Douglassonian tradition.
I told you I would catch you. I did.
At the unveiling of the Frederick Douglass statue at Emancipation Hall on July 19, 2013 I ran up on you. I told you, “I’m John Muller. You know who I am.”
You responded defensively that you’d read my book and offered it was “well written” or something such as that. I told you my interest was not your opinion of my book but your displaying a respect for the community of Anacostia, a place where the spirit and history of Mr. Douglass can be felt in the air at any time of the day, any day and any season of the year.
I invited you to attend my book talk at the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book happening the next day, July 20, 2013. You did not attend.
Additionally, I invited you to take one of my neighborhood walking tours of Anacostia while in town or during any of your subsequent visits to Washington City. To date you have never taken the walking tour. Other “Douglass scholars” have. They understand. You do not now nor have ever understood who Mr. Douglass was and is to Old Ana.
Since I am a self-taught 16th & W Street SE scholar you may continue to think you can dismiss me personally and the Douglass scholarship I have advanced for the past five years — which is far above and beyond the work you have done on Douglass during your entire time at Yale — along with having a continued blatant inattention of the neighborhood and community which I have been appointed as an ambassador for.
Your demonstrative disrespect and disregard for my scholarship is of no consequence other than to shine light on your intellectual and scholarly dishonesty but, my dear Prof. Blight, you WILL NOT ignore the neighborhood of Old Anacostia and the self-made and self-taught Douglassonian scholars who hold down the corners along 16th Street SE and W Street SE.
The men of Old Anacostia know more about Douglass and what his life means to the human condition than you, an intellectually dishonest, manipulative and selfish old white man could ever understand in 200 lifetimes, let alone 200 years.
The young men and elders of 16th Street SE respect, admire and honor Mr. Frederick Douglass as their neighbor and friend. Many men and women had their elementary school graduations at Cedar Hill. The history of Cedar Hill is the history of a neighborhood and its inhabitants protecting, guarding and preserving Mr. Douglass’ memory for generations so now people like you can safely genuflect and speculate. Understand that, sir.
As you are an alleged “Douglass expert,” whose career has been almost exclusively built as a white, European man discussing race and the history of black folk in this country it’s the least you could do to offer respect for the Asiatic community of Old Anacostia. But you show no respect. You are only about yourself and those within the Ivory Tower institutions who for decades have patted you on the back.
You show yourself to be a disgrace to the Douglassonian tradition at every turn and every word.
This past Wednesday, February 7, 2018, you spoke in Baltimore at the Maryland Historical Society. There were representatives from the Office of Governor Larry Hogan in attendance along with other luminaries.
When given this platform to discuss Mr. Douglass you peddled in your usual speculative history. More importantly, you did not acknowledge many things occurring around the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial you should have. It is not all about you, Prof. Blight. It’s about the heritage and legacy of Mr. Douglass and the younger generation.
The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives is involved in ongoing effort to raise up One Million Abolitionists by distributing 1,000,000 special edition copies of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave to school-aged children throughout the country.
You did not mention this important effort to your rapt audience. You did not mention members of the Douglass-Bailey family. You did not acknowledge anyone or anything other than yourself and your own perceived authority on Mr. Douglass.
It is not about you, sir. It is not about me. It is about honoring Mr. Douglass and passing on his legacy to the next generation.
As a youngster growing up in Maryland I read Narrative in junior high school. I had a poster of Mr. D on my wall throughout high school. When I began working for the UPO nearly a decade ago in the neighborhood where Cedar Hill is located I always thought there was a reason God deployed me to W Street SE.
In Baltimore, on W Street SE, in Rochester, in Talbot County, in Savannah, Georgia, at Howard University and anywhere and everywhere from the Tuckahoe to Paris to Egypt where the name Frederick Douglass rings the bells of the Gods of not only American History but the history of civilization you will understand it is about the younger generation. It is about liberation of mind, body and soul. It is about uplifting fallen humanity.
Don’t you ever say “Freddy D” out your mouth ever again, whether in private or in public in front of an audience of primarily aged Europeans.
You do not have that right and I am letting you know you do not have that right with the full force of all the founding members of 16th & W Street SE Douglassonians.
We have never seen you come around the way. Never.
As a history professor at one of the world’s most prestigious universities I invite you to come to the corner and have a discussion. Try to teach your speculative Douglass history and you will be taught what Mr. Douglass truly means to people in a way you can never understand.
You do not own Mr. Douglass and his memory. Nor do I. No one does. Mr. Douglass lived his life to uplift all of fallen humanity. Mr. D was a friend to the friendless.
For thirty years you have exerted unearned power and control over the history of Frederick Douglass in not just this country but the world. Many, many elite institutions are guilty of elevating your mediocrity to the level of honor, including Washington College.
You sir, are no honor to Douglass. You are a disgrace.
The point of this letter is to kindly suggest you mention the One Million Abolitionists project moving forward, especially during your appearance at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site on the weekend of February 17 and February 18.
If you believe your self to be a Douglass scholar I’d kindly suggest you use the opportunities you’ve been given to uplift Douglass to the younger generation and the average man and woman in the community.
In conclusion, this is not about you. It’s about uplifting and liberating the next generation of youngsters, those whose birthright is to know the Douglassonian tradition is theirs to inherit.
Co-Founder, 16th & W Street Douglassonians
1400 block of W Street SE