Posts Tagged Baltimore

Harvard Prof. John Stauffer fails to acknowledge first modern Douglass biographer Dr. Benjamin Quarles

Stauffer in BaltimoreThe legacy of Dr. Benjamin Quarles of Morgan State University, the first modern Douglass biographer, is sacred.

On Saturday, February 10, 2018 Harvard Professor John Stauffer presented at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore. Before Prof. Stauffer spoke I introduced myself and made brief conversation. I shared with Prof. Stauffer my belief that Douglass has yet to benefit from the full force historical detective work of a biographer who captures the full depth of his entire local, national and international life. We exchanged our opinions of Douglass biographies.

I shared my opinion that McFeely’s work is speculative garbage. Prof. Stauffer professed his affinity for the work of Prof. Nathan I. Huggins. I shared my evaluation that Huggins’ book is a predictable regurgitation of Douglass’ own autobiographical writings, a route many “Douglass biographers” have taken across generations.

Expressing my continued dismissal of much of the scholarly writing on Douglass, Prof. Stauffer asked what I considered worth reading. Holland, Gregory, Quarles, Foner and Preston, of course, I responded.

I then asked his source for his expanding a speculative claim. We discontinued our conversation. I offered Prof. Stauffer a forewarning I’d be listening to his presentation closely.  I relayed my lack of reverence for Prof. David Blight, his former professor, and my evaluation of Blight “scholarship” as dangerous and blasphemous speculation.

I took my seat at the top of the rafters.

Prof. Stauffer initiated his presentation with a phrenology print. A studied Douglass scholar would have shared the consequential context, of which there is much, for what this specific print and the American Phrenology movement meant to Douglass.

It is a matter of the historic record what Douglass said and wrote about phrenology. Douglass broke it down with the sober focus and intense dedication of a fugitive slave-scholar.

As one of a small tribe of American bondsmen who could command the attention of the country’s ruling elites, Douglass had earned the requisite intellectual authority to speak on philosophical questions of the American character.

To speak with authority requires research, research Stauffer did not know.

More than half-way through his talk Stauffer began to discuss the historiography of Douglass studies. Speaking before a largely African-American audience in the largely African-American metropolis of Baltimore Stauffer began by offering Phil Foner as Douglass’s first modern biography.

From the back I spoke up and offered before the entire audience that Dr. Benjamin Quarles of Baltimore’s Morgan State University is the first modern Douglass biographer.

Stauffer acknowledge the fact. I opined to the confused audience that it was my job to make sure the facts shared were accurate. They tendered a meek laugh.

Keeping my comments to myself during the remainder of the professor’s presentation I was prompted to speak up during the audience Q&A.

A young woman asked Stauffer about the connections between Frederick Douglass and Howard University.

After Stauffer sustained an elongated pause I made it my place to speak, again, and shared with the questioner there would be a presentation of Frederick Douglass and Howard University later in the month. Stauffer had no response to the question. Nothing about Douglass and Howard nor the relationship between Douglass and Fanny Jackson Coppin.

After the crowd dispersed completely I spoke with Prof. Stauffer one on one.

I respectfully shared my thoughts: for someone who has made a career of speaking about the history of African American writers and historical figures his failure to mention, let alone acknowledge in specialized remarks, Dr. Benjamin Quarles, a member of the sacred Hall of Fame of Douglassonian Historians, is impious.

I told Stauffer his error to cite Quarles was inexcusable. No excuse would suffice.

In an effort to defend his lack of scholarly understanding Stauffer offered that he had cited Dr. Quarles in a previous book. I countered it did not matter because when given the platform to recognize Dr. Quarles he chose not to.

In the final analysis, the inability of Ivy League professors to do basic work to comprehend the requirements of Douglass scholarship clearly demonstrate the lack of academic rigor demanded by their respective hallowed centers of learning. The lack of scholarly standards, which allows for a repetitious cycle of stale “scholarship” to be promoted and celebrated in the place of of focused Douglass scholarship, has been perpetuated by hundreds of philanthropic, academic, government and public history associations and institutions over decades.

It is time for the lies to stop. Been time.



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Prof. Lawrence Jackson of Johns Hopkins University advances new age Douglassonian scholarship

Frederick Bailey of Baltimore _ LJ_JHU_2.10.2018Earlier this month at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore I attended a presentation by Douglassonian Studies scholar Dr. Lawrence Jackson of Johns Hopkins University.

Attentive and insightful historians can easily distinguish speculation from scholarship. Unfortunately, in the nascent field of Douglassonian Studies speculation stills reigns.

Fortunately and thankfully there is yet hope.

Using Census records, maps, pamphlets, newspapers, city directories and other scholarly resources Prof. Jackson introduced information gleaned from the creation of four interactive digital maps using GIS software. Jackson collaborated with his students, passing on the Douglassonian tradition, to generate these maps.

According to an online article about the project Jackson led, “Working with the Maryland Historical Society, the four students combed archives, old newspapers, and census records to trace Douglass’ pathways in the 1820s and ’30s. Then, with JHU’s Sheridan Libraries, they used the ArcGIS digital mapping platform to construct a visual narrative.”

Having attended dozens of Douglass discussions, panels and lectures over the years I can state beyond metaphysical certitude that, along with other scholars such as Prof. Leigh Fought, Zoe Trodd, Celeste-Marie Bernier and Morgan State doctoral candidate Candace Jackson Gray, Prof. Jackson is advancing Douglass scholarship to areas of previously unexplored terrain.

“Frederick Bailey of Baltimore” was an original, engaging, thoughtful and revealing discussion of the early years and experiences of Frederick Bailey in Baltimore as told through new sources of scholarship.

We commend Prof. Jackson and hope to see, hear and read more of his work on Douglass in the near future.

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Harvard’s John Stauffer has actively perpetuated a lie about Anna teaching Frederick how to play the violin for a decade. It is unnecessary and needs to be corrected. (Part 1)

Stauffer in BaltimoreLast year I saw the last show of The Agitators at the Geva Theatre in Rochester. Among some of my critiques of the play was a scene that insinuated Anna Douglass played the violin in tandem with her husband, Frederick.

While not a major technical foul it struck me as forced, unnecessary and without any source provenance I’d seen or could recall. While it was in the context of a play I can understand the need for imagination but the play’s handbill made the point that a dramaturge had closely reviewed the play. Mentioned as folks who had lent their expertise was Harvard’s John Stauffer.

In conversations with Douglassonians following the play it was advanced that Stauffer was the likely source for the violin reference as his 2008 book, Giants, makes mention of this make-believe embellishment on page 71.

Her name was Anna Murray and she was a free woman, having been born free on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She had almond-shaped eyes, a full round face, and dark skin, and she worked as a maid for the Wells family on South Caroline Street in Baltimore. At twenty-five, she was five years older than Frederick and had moved to Baltimore at age seventeen. Quiet and hardworking, she was virtually illiterate but could read music, and when she played Haydn or Handel on her violin her hymns seemed to enchant the room. She taught Frederick the violin, he was a quick study, and soon they were playing duets.

This weekend I met Stauffer for the first time.

I asked him about the reference of Anna teaching Frederick how to play the violin. He told me it was in Life and Times and said he’d send me the citation. Since he has yet to do so I am taking the initiative.

NO existing references in Life and Times in either 1881 or 1892 revision.

1881 version of Life and Times references to the violin.

p. 143

The fiddling, dancing, and “jubilee beating” was carried on in all directions. This latter performance was strictly southern. It supplied the place of violin, or of other musical instruments, and was played so easily that almost every farm had its “Juba” beater.

1892 version of Life and Times references to the violin.

p. 181

The fiddling, dancing, and “jubilee beating” was carried on in all directions. This latter performance was strictly southern. It supplied the place of violin or other musical instruments and was played so easily that almost every farm had its “Juba” beater. The performer improvised as he beat the instrument, marking the words as he sang so as to have them fall pat with the movement of his hands.

p. 691

But of all the interesting objects collected in the Museum of Genoa, the one that touched me most was the violin that had belonged to and been played upon by Paganini, the greatest musical genius of his time. This violin is treasured in a glass case and beyond the touch of careless fingers, a thing to be seen and not handled.

p. 692

So this old violin, made after the pattern of others and perhaps not more perfect in its construction and tone than hundreds seen elsewhere, detained me longer and interested me more than anything else in the Museum of Genoa. Emerson says, “It is not the thing said, but the man behind it, that is important.” So it was not this old violin, but the marvelous man behind it, the man who had played on it and played as never man played before, and thrilled the hearts of thousands by his playing, that made it a precious object in my eyes. Owing perhaps to my love of music and of the violin in particular, I would have given more for that old violin of wood, horse-hair, and catgut than for any one of the long line of pictures I saw before me. I desired it on account of the man who had played upon it–the man who revealed its powers and possibilities as they were never known before. This was his old violin, his favorite instrument, the companion of his toils and triumphs, the solace of his private hours, the minister to his soul in his battles with sin and sorrow. It had delighted thousands. Men had listened to it with admiration and wonder. It had filled the largest halls of Europe with a concord of sweet sounds. It had even stirred the dull hearts of courts, kings and princes, and revealed to them their kinship to common mortals as perhaps had been done by no other instrument. It was with some difficulty that I moved away from this old violin of Paginini.


We will follow-up this post with the existing source material which details how, where and when Douglass took up the violin, as well as a scholarly critique of Stauffer’s presentation on Douglass at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum where he failed to acknowledge the scholarship of Baltimorean Douglassonian Dr. Benjamin Quarles of Morgan State University, among other errors.

We are critical of “Douglass experts” at Yale and Harvard because their erroneous scholarship and speculation should not be acceptable from a high school student let alone from Professors at these two prestigious universities.

It shouldn’t be me calling them out, but call them out I will. Anything less would be a disservice to the truth.


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Case for Speculations: No, David Blight, Douglass’ 1200 pages of biography is “not in the way.” (Part 3)

IMG_5849.JPGSpeculative historian Prof. David Blight has been provided a platform within the most elite of institutions for decades to genuflect on Frederick Douglass without advancing meaningful and lasting Douglassonian scholarship.

Speaking at the Harvard Law School in the fall of 2016 Blight said:

And that’s the first problem that anyone working on Douglass faces. It’s how the autobiography is always in the way of the biographer.  The problem with Douglass is that the subject is always in your way. And you’re constantly trying to get around him, through him, over him. Sometimes, you just want to sit on him. You know, chain him to a chair – bad metaphor – and say, “Stop now!” Why don’t you talk about these 100 subjects in your autobiography?

For historians, such as Blight, who are long on speculation and short on facts I can understand how and why they would make such a telling statement.

Early Douglass biographers, such as Booker T. and Huggins, and more modern writers have simply repeated, regurgitated and retold the story Douglass told in his own life of his life. As Blight says, Douglass wrote 1200 pages of autobiography across his 1845, 1855 and 1881 works, along with an 1892 edition of Life and Times.

The challenges faced by Douglass biographers due to the limitations of Douglass’ own writings are only challenges if you make it so. To industrious and committed Douglassonians these limitations are opportunities.

For example, Douglass never offers a single mention of Howard University in his autobiographical works. For me, this was an opportunity to give a fuller account than had been previously published about FD’s service to Howard University for more than twenty years. I dedicated an entire chapter in Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C. to Howard University.

Not only was Douglass on Howard’s Board of Trustees from 1871 until his death, he raised money for Howard, regularly attended graduations and campus events, assisted in organizing the first alumni association, mentored Howard students and welcomed them to his Washington homes, welcomed VIPs to campus including President Hayes, testified before Congress on behalf of Howard and was by all accounts, other than his autobiographical writings, a fierce advocate for the university faculty and its students in innumerable ways.

I will continue to correct not only Blight’s current stale interpretations, speculations and presentations on Douglass but his decades of inert scholarship and blatant exploitation of Mr. Douglass.

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Maryland Historical Society hosts Frederick Douglass at 200 lecture (Wed., February 7, 2018)

The Maryland Historical Society is pleased to host noted scholar and professor of history at Yale University, David Blight, Ph.D., as he brings his expertise to discuss importance of Frederick Douglass’s life and thought as part of our recognition of Black History month.

In light of Douglass’s 200th birthday, and leading to the release of Blight’s upcoming full biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, this lecture is especially pertinent to today’s discussions.

The event is made free of charge to the public through the A. Helen Diggs Memorial Lecture Fund. We look forward to sharing this insightful lecture and commemoration of the life and impactful work of Frederick Douglass with the Maryland community on February 7th.

201 W Monument Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

Reservations are requested to ensure seating

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Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Exhibit opens at Baltimore City Hall, Feb. 1, 2018

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West North Avenue, Baltimore. Photo: John Muller & William Alston-El

The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Exhibit will be on display at Baltimore City Hall in the north gallery. The exhibit will chronicle Douglass life with special emphasis on his time in Baltimore, involvement the Underground Railroad, Civil War and post 1865. The exhibit will include pictures, maps, quilts, dvds and other state of the art exhibit items honoring one of America’s great iconic figures of the 19th century. One of the primary goals of the project to invite Maryland public, private and charter school students to Baltimore City Hall to tour the exhibit and learn more about Frederick Douglass and his lifelong efforts as an advocate for freedom, justice and equality.

Editor’s Note:

This is the best information we got. Looks like FD’s image is on the cover of the monthly Baltimore magazine give-away distributed at museums and tourist locations. I’ll try to get up there before Feb. 1 and/or gather harder intelligence before this exhibit opens.

Information out of Baltimore is rather unclear in terms of what is being done and who is doing it? The Mayor’s Office? Enoch Pratt? The Maryland Historical Society, located in Baltimore? Morgan State? Johns Hopkins? The city historical society and city college / university? The Fells Point Preservation Society?

We got nothing through the website for Baltimore City government. Not even an event listing. Nothing on the website for the City Council.

Not sure Washington City is any better …

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Baltimore: A Day with Frederick Douglass and Lou Fields (November 18, 2017)


Photo by John Muller. All rights reserved and enforced.

To kick off the Baltimore 2018 Year of Douglass, his bicentennial birthday celebration and the 180th anniversary of his escape, the African American Tourism Council is seeking your support and participation in “A Day with Frederick Douglass” at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum & Park. 

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has confirmed her attendance. The program will start at 10:00am and conclude at 2:00pm.

A Day with Frederick Douglass” begins with the Frederick Douglass Path to Freedom Walking Tour in historic Fell’s Point. The walking tour will begin at 10:00AM at Broadway & Thames near the water taxi.

At the conclusion of the walking tour participants and the general public are invited to a Discussion with Frederick Douglass at the Douglass Myers Museum at 1417 Thames Street, Baltimore, MD.

The walking tour fee is reduced to $10.00 per person for all attendees, includes admission to the Douglass discussion, admission to the museum without the walking tour is $5 adults, $4 seniors, $2 children (6-17), children under 6 are free.

Frederick Douglass books will be on sale.

During the discussion Frederick Douglass will be portrayed by Mr. Nathan Richardson, artist, poet, historian and interpreter.

Sponsors and supporters include Visit Baltimore, Maryland Commission of Civil Rights, Baltimore Heritage, AFSCME Council 67 and the Maryland Office of Tourism Department.


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