Posts Tagged Baltimore

WATCH: Fells Point Walking Tour w/ Lou Fields

Fells Point Walking Tour Frederick Douglass lived as a slave from 1826 to 1838 in Fells Point. Mr. Fields talked about Mr. Douglass’ life at that time and the related sites.

 

http://www.c-span.org/video/?164528-1/fells-point-walking-tour

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Was Frederick Douglass a Prince Hall Freemason? No.

What Would Frederick Douglasss SayOne of the many random, and not necessarily helpful, things I was repeatedly told during my research was that Frederick Douglass was/is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. True, Douglass is an honorary member and the only member initiated after death, but Douglass is not really an Alpha brother.

One of the more helpful and interesting questions and/or tips I received during the research was from an older gentlemen in Baltimore, who knew Douglass biographer Dr. Benjamin Quarles, and had spent years trying to confirm if Douglass was, in fact, a Prince Hall Freemason. Douglass could have been a member at a Rochester, Baltimore, or Washington, D.C. lodge. Take your pick.

The gentleman’s main hunch was that in a photo of Douglass’ funeral outside of Metropolitan AME on Feb. 25, 1895 there appear to be black men in white robes. This, among many things, is characteristic of a fraternal organization whether it be the FOP or Prince Hall Masons. The Baltimore gentleman had thoroughly checked Maryland lodge records to see that Prince Hall Freemasons had arrived in Washington at Douglass’ funeral en masse. That’s the sum of what he reported in addition to some unique ways Douglass ran his Cedar Hill home.

Masonic Wall Paper at Cedar HillFirst, at Cedar Hill women slept on the west side of the home while men slept on the east side. This a fraternal practice. Secondly, the wall paper. In the wall paper there are symbols that are fraternal. While taking a tour of the home a couple years back with my friend William Alston-El, a Moorish American, he identified the Star of David and the Star and Crescent.

There’s a new book of essays out, “All Men Free and Brethren: Essays on the History of African American Freemasonry” which recognizes, or rather recycles (Levine, Robert. “Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass and the Politics of Representative Identity.” UNC Press, 1997.) a known Douglass quote that runs counter to those who believe he was a member of a fraternal organization such as the Prince Hall Freemasons.

In fact, Quarles, reportedly a Prince Hall Freemason, even includes a line in his biography of Douglass that explicitly says Douglass had enough associations and was too involved to lend his time, or need to, to be a member of a fraternal organization.

True scholars of Douglass know how deep his understanding of world and American history truly was. Douglass, a journalist and editor, knew the heartbeat, pulse, and rhythm of his life and times and the men, women, and children of his race. In his writings and lectures he recognized the “occult.” Douglass was a man of all seasons but he was not everything. Many of his friends were freemasons but there is no single piece of evidence that I know of that indicates Douglass was a Prince Hall Freemason.

Please tell me I am wrong. And, please, stop saying Douglass was/is an Alpha unless you clarify he is an “Honorary Alpha.”

(I actually had someone tell me they saw a photo of Douglass marching in Baltimore at the head of an Alpha Phi Alpha procession…. only that Douglass died in 1895 and the Alphas were founded as the first black Greek-letter organization for black college students more than a decade later in December 1906!)

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Why is Frederick Douglass “The Lion of Anacostia”?

FD Front page of Harper's 1883Throughout his life Frederick Douglass carried many titles such as Honorable Frederick Douglass and Frederick Douglass, Esquire. At a young age he became a licensed local preacher and throughout his life many men felt compelled to address him as Reverend Douglass. He was all of these distinctions in official Washington but in his neighborhood, the city’s first sub-division, Douglass was known as “Old Man Eloquent,” “The Sage of Anacostia,” “The Sage of Cedar Hill” and “The Lion of Anacostia.”

His leonine head of hair appeared in every image and print that ever captured Frederick Douglass, the most photographed man of the 19th century. Over the years his hair and beard turned snowy white. As United States Marshal of the country’s capital city he walked the neighborhood streets from his Victorian mansion at Cedar Hill across the Navy Yard bridge over the Anacostia River and then down Pennsylvania Avenue to his office at City Hall. He continued this practice for many years. “Frederick Douglass, in spite of his age, walks about Washington as briskly as a boy,” observed the New York Tribune in early 1884.

A half-century before, Douglass was a young lion, an adolescent slave roaming the streets of Baltimore, Maryland hunting for scattered newspapers, torn Bible pages, scanning broadsides, and generally searching for anything with reading matter. As a young lion and fugitive slave Douglass rose to become a self-elevated king of antebellum America’s anti-slavery jungle.

Two men tender introductions to Frederick Douglass’s 1845 autobiography. Journalist William Lloyd Garrison leads with a Preface and abolitionist Wendell Phillips follows with a letter.

From Boston in April 1845, Phillips begins, “You remember the old fable of “The Man and the Lion,” where the lion complained that he should not be so misrepresented “when the lions wrote history.”

I am glad the time has come when the “lions write history.”

Douglass was the king of his household, his neighborhood, and the city in which he died on February 20, 1895. He was and remains “The Lion of Anacostia.”

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“Fred Douglass Helps A Church” in Baltimore [New York Times, March 1892]

FRED DOUGLASS HELPS A CHURCH.

Baltimore, March 5. – Some weeks ago Frederick Douglass visited Baltimore in company with his son for the purpose of paying off the mortgage on the Centennial Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. The church is the one in which Mr. Douglass first received his religious education, and, finding that it was in financial straits, he came to the rescue and lifted the mortgage.

In the presence of 1,300 persons the Rev. J.L. Thomas, the pastor, burned the mortgage papers. Sunday has been set aside as a day of special service. Fred Douglass will deliver an address.

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Frederick Douglass remembers gathering “scattered pages of the Bible from the filthy street-gutters” in Baltimore, MD [Life and Times of Frederick Douglass]

Bible pages

Frederick Douglass’ intellect and drive didn’t just come up from slavery;  it came up from the streets.

“My desire to learn increased, and especially did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible. I have gathered scattered pages of the Bible from the filthy street-gutters, and washed and dried them, that in moments of leisure I might get a word or two of wisdom from them.” – Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1892.

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Message to Frederick Douglass biographers, “You come at the king, you best not miss.” [Dr. Leigh Fought]

The raw streets of Baltimore, Maryland gave the world Frederick Douglass in the 19th century, Tupac Shakur in the 20th century, and the HBO television show “The Wire” in the 21st. Without a doubt were Frederick Douglass alive today (his 19th century self of course) you know he would have thoughts and opinions ready to share on how “The Wire” has somehow integrated itself as equally into today’s street culture (of which it sought to diagnose) and into our common learned culture and popular zeitgeist culture.

To be clear, at 16th & W Street SE a reference to “The Wire” will be as recognizable in the pristine and gated classrooms of the Ivory Towers. Just how is it that former crime reporter David Simon (and his supporting team) could create a show whose cultural impact resonates and cuts across these disparate segments of society? Sounds like an oration Douglass could go wild with.

That said, forgotten in the common memory and mythology of Frederick Douglass is how he came up. Frederick Douglass was  as much from the streets of Baltimore as he was from the fields of Talbot County. These Maryland experiences — in the city and the country — was where Douglass drew the intellectual gunpowder he would use to ignite the thinking minds of crowds, his family, close friends, and enemies for parts of seven decades.

This weekend Dr. Leigh Fought gave a thoughtful and well-researched presentation on Anna Douglass, Frederick Douglass’ wife of 44 years.

In the Q&A session chatter shifted to Love Across Color Lines in which the author is heavy-handed in her speculation that Douglass had an affair that lasted nearly three decades. Dr. Fought and I have both found serious flaws with the citations and the author’s imaginative interpretation of sources.

Speaking of Deidrich’s laudable but faulted effort, as well as future biographers of Douglass, Dr. Fought invoked one of the more notable lines from “The Wire” and the show’s infamous stick-up man, Omar (played by Michael K. Williams who was in “Bullet” alongside Tupac).

“Has everyone seen “The Wire”? You know that line, ‘You come at the king, you best not miss.” Indeed.

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Frederick Douglass, J. Sella Martin, John Mercer Langston attend parade in Baltimore celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment [The New Era, May 26, 1870]

Library of Congress

“Not less than ten thousand colored people were in the march, and ten thousand more lined the sidewalks” at the scene of a grand parade in Baltimore on May 19, 1870 celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave male citizens the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It had been ratified and enacted that spring. Included in the cavalcade was Anacostia Club No. 1, an advance guard of eight men with muskets leading fifty men clad in Indian costume in front of a wagon of twenty women “dressed in the costume of Indian squaws, and several of them carried in their arms infants.” The organization carried a banner proclaiming “We are the True Supporters of the Republican Party. Anacostia Club organized March 26, 1870.”

At the front of the procession were the carriages of Frederick Douglass, John Sella Martin, and John M. Langston, of Howard University, “Every class and condition was represented – old men worn out by the toll of many years of servitude; young men whose early manhood was saved from degradation by the effects of Freedom; and a great army of boys and girls, in whose lives the auction-block will not be a hideous reminiscence,” wrote The New Era.

The band played its last introductory note, the master of ceremonies spoke quickly, and Frederick Douglass was before a crowd of Baltimoreans that knew Douglass as a son of Maryland. “During the last thirty years I have often appeared before the people as a slave, sometimes as a fugitive slave, but always in behalf of the slave. But today I am permitted to appear before you as an American citizen.”  Douglass took his audience back for a moment, “When toiling on the plantation we slaves desired to talk of emancipation, but there stood the overseer, and a word could ensure a flogging.” Recalling a dexterity now known as code-switching, Douglass further told his attentive listeners, “To talk about emancipation without being discovered we invented a vocabulary, and when the overseer thought we were talking of the most simple thing we were really speaking of emancipation, but in a way that was Greek to them.” Applause and laughter broke out. “The negro has now got the three belongings of American freedom. First, the cartridge box, for when he got the eagle on his button and the musket on his shoulder he was free. Next came the ballot box; some of its most earnest advocates now hardly saw it three years ago, but we’ll forgive them now. Next we want the jury-box,” demanded Douglass.

Speaking before a large crowd of his compatriots Douglass preached, “Educate your sons and daughters, send them to school and show that besides the cartridge box, the ballot box and jury box you have also the knowledge box.” Wishful and encouraging, he said, “Build on for those who come after you. I am no orator. The orators who are to come up in hereafter the colored race will throw me and Langston far into the back ground.” Telling the crowd to “get education and get money” at all costs in order to be independent, Douglass told them, “I found that God never began to hear my prayers for liberty until I began to run. Then you ought to have seen the dust rise behind me in answer to prayer.”

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