Posts Tagged Black Women in the World of Frederick Douglass
Black Women in the World of Frederick Douglass – Henrietta Vinton Davis recites Shakespeare at Cedar Hill [April 1883]
As we proceed to uplift the fallen history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass and the legion of radical black women within his intricate network we continue to dismantle the dangerous “White Woman Lies” Prof. Leigh Fought has advanced unchallenged within the academy since the publication of her consequential book last year.
Numerous radical black women educators, such as Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson, trusted and looked to Dr. Douglass as a father figure since their early childhoods. In recognizing the true legacy we will not allow this sacred history to be distorted and ignored by alleged “experts.” Despite these leading scholars being largely devoid of original scholarship their lies are promoted and awarded.
Leigh Fought has knowingly or subconsciously dangerously minimized and lied on women who knew Dr. Douglass for nearly a half-century.
Coming up in our own time we ran with our own legion of radical black women. Now grown, more than a couple of these women have granted me permission to set the record straight once and forever.
On W Street in Old Anacostia there are radical white women who fire off emails to elected officials and city agencies, following the Douglassonian tradition of agitating the city for an improvement of services within the neighborhood.
On W Street in Old Anacostia there are more than a couple radical black women who keep their door open for generations of returning citizens who accumulatively have served centuries.
There is an unknown history of radical black women coming through W Street, formerly Jefferson Street, in Old Anacostia that Prof. Leigh Fought completely ignores in her book despite my efforts to forewarn her.
Since Le Moyne College Professor Leigh Fought found it in her to reach we will now teach.
Dr. Douglass is a Shakespearean figure in American history and in his own life and times Dr. Douglass was a Shakespearean. On at least two occasions Douglass participated in readings with the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, first introduced to the public record by scholar Phil Foner.
A fugitive slave-scholar Dr. Douglass could hold street corners with the same ease he could hold the public stage. A common lie within Douglassoniana Studies and a common public misconception is that Dr. Douglass became isolated as he aged and was reluctant to use his influence to uplift others.
Wrong. White Man Lies. White Woman Lies.
As America’s Pharaoh Dr. Douglass was known for his cultural discernment and promotion of the arts. As many of us do when struck by tragedy we turn to the arts.
In April 1883, less than a year after the passing of Anna Douglass and less than a year before his marriage to Helen Pitts, Dr. Douglass held a small gathering at Cedar Hill for a young actress on the eve of her grand introduction to Washington society.
As a radical agitator Dr. Douglass influenced legion of radical black women. These women, such as Henrietta Vinton Davis, used the teachings of Dr. Douglass to continue their radical agitation for many generations henceforth. For example, Davis is well known to many Garveyites as a close confidant of Marcus Garvey.
For genteel white women such as Leigh Fought the associations Dr. Douglass had with radical black women, other than the default Ida B. Wells, may be difficult to understand. We understand but others may not be as kind.
Without further delay we provide a small newspaper item which shows Dr. Douglass to be an early radical promoter of the nascent Black arts movement.
Reception to Miss Henrietta Vinton Davis
Hon. Frederick Douglass invited a few friends last evening to his residence in Uniontown to meet Henrietta Vinton Davis, the young colored lady who is to make her debut in dramatic recitals on Wednesday evening, 25th instant, at Marini’s Hall.
Miss Davis recited very effectively scenes from “Romeo and Juliet,” “As You Like It,” “Brier Rose” (a poem of great dramatic power by Bjornson), “Awfully Lovely Philosophy” and “Dancing at the Flat Creek Quarters.” Mr. Douglass, than whom there is no better judge, made a speech of congratulation, and predicted a successful future for Miss Davis.
Miss Marquerite E. Saxton, the preceptress of Miss Davis, upon a request from Mr. Douglass, gave a scene from “Macbeth,” and recited “Drifting.” Miss Saxton is so well and favorably known that the appearance of her pupil will be one of the events of the season.
Evening Critic, 24 April 1883
* Special acknowledgement to Davon Wright aka Aquafina Boo-Boo, our dear friend and radical black actress known throughout Washington City theatre communities.
As I walk in, out, around and through neighborhoods, communities and thoroughfares of Southeast Washington, knowingly or not, I re-trace routes Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass trode walking his community as he built community.
Known throughout the four corners of the earth, Dr. Douglass was known and respected on the muddy street corners of old Barry Farm. The Douglass boys, specifically Charles and Frederick, Jr., commanded equal and independent respect as local community activists. Nothing changes but the weather; gun play exists today on the K, gun play existed on the streets and in backyards of old Barry Farm lots off Nichols Avenue.
Within the freedman community of Barry Farm the Douglass family invested themselves to uplift fallen humanity and assist families and their young children, many being the first born free, in education liberation.
Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson was welcome in the home of not only Frederick Douglass but Frederick Douglass, Jr. who lived on Nichols Avenue, today Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, until his death, before his time, in 1892.
Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson was a playmate with the grandchildren of Dr. Douglass.
Radical black women scholars and educators who ran with Dr. Douglass are legion.
We will no longer let historians whitewash this history. We will no longer allow historians tell “White Man Lies” on Dr. Douglass and the young women of African descent he looked out for, mentored and counseled.
I must admit I am complicit in allowing the lies of history, or rather an incomplete history, to be advanced. I played nice for years. I continue to play nice as that is my natural disposition, but I was granted permission by W Street Douglassonians to ratchet up the radical and guerrilla tactics in uplifting fallen humanity through history.
If Prof. Leigh Fought had stayed in her lane I may not have had impetus and mandate to come through the country roads and seek counsel of descendants of neighbors of Larkin Johnson and Emily Edmonson Johnson.
I was told to not forget the country roads from whence we come, the country roads of Zion, Brookeville, Gregg, Sundown, Goldmine, Brooke, Howard Chapel and Sunshine Burger.
We, guardians of the ground that raised us up, will not knowingly allow Ivory Tower academics to disgrace the community history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass for one second longer.
Forthcoming profiles of “Black Women in the World of Frederick Douglass” to provide fuller history than selective and restrictive “[White] Women in the World of Frederick Douglass” (Oxford University Press, 2017)
LeMoyne College professor Leigh Fought, author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, has recently decided to insert herself into my ongoing refutation of the speculative “scholarship” of disgraceful David Blight.
Until Prof. Fought decided to reach I have quietly kept reoccurring critiques I’ve heard of her award-winning book to myself.
Politics of respectability need no longer apply 1) after Fought posted a message on her blog about me without so much as letting me know and 2) deleted my initial comments apologizing for involving her, although she initially provided her full consent, with ongoing research projects into records pertaining to Anna Douglass and other family members that have remained elusive and unpublished.
Dr. Fought was asked and enlisted in these research pursuits because of her professionalism but she has shown herself to prioritize pettiness over the pursuit of scholarship. Prof. Fought’s actions are not only disgraceful to the journalistic legacy of Dr. Douglass but to the journalism of Helen Pitts Douglass.
Taught about history on the county roads & back of the late night 70 bus
While a student at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland I frequently called out not only the errors and textbook omissions in our world history and US history classes but other classmates. I was known to get passionate and sometimes would more than call out a fellow student or two. (I did the same in college.)
My high school teachers were of little to no help calming me down, with the exception of Vietnam combat veteran and AP US History teacher Robert J. Washek. Often my classmates would intervene to calm me down so as to prevent me from crossing the line. On more than one occasion a young African-American woman, or women, grabbed me by the arm and took me into the hallway to either provide counsel or a moment of prayer to calm me down.
That is how I came up.
I thank E. Bacon, C. Williams, K. Dawkins, M. Sawyer, A. Philpot, T. Stewart, K. Jones, the late E. Cray and many others who I can’t recall without the aid of a yearbook.
I recently spoke to an old high school classmate and told her about the intellectual delicateness and fragile egos of fellow Douglass scholars, including the genteel Leigh Fought. I will trust counsel of someone I’ve known for twenty years over the “gas lighting” efforts of an insincere scholar who was initially helpful and supportive of my efforts, including donating money to a community conference and mural installation at 16th & W Street SE.
According to a dear friend I’ve known since I was 12, “Give them the same grief you gave our teachers. That’s their job to deal with it and recognize the validity. If not, I know how you go. We all know how you go. I don’t think they understand where you’re coming from, where we are all from. Let them know. We taught you, so you better teach them. I pray for them. They don’t know who they are playing with.”
My friend, who read Prof. Fought’s book, suggested I begin a series on the blog, Black Women in the World of Frederick Douglass.
While Prof. Fought went nobly further than any previous biographers in treating the Douglass family — specifically Anna, Rosetta and other women within the intimate cipher of Dr. Douglass — with respect and scholarship there are massive errors, omissions and more than a couple misinterpretations in her work.
Troubling statements and omissions in [White] Women in the World of Frederick Douglass
As Prof. Fought has says, Dr. Douglass ran with a “legion” of women from various reformist movements yet [White] Women in the World of Frederick Douglass is largely a minimization and whitewashing of the associations Dr. Douglass had with women of African descent.
For example, Emily Edmonson, a student at Oberlin College, teacher at the Miner School and a confidant of Dr. Douglass, for nearly a half-century, while a resident of both Sandy Spring, Maryland and Hillsdale, Washington, D.C. in the modern-day Barry Farm community of Southeast is mentioned one single time in the body text of Fought’s manuscript.
On page 140 Edmonson, who also warrants a caption and source note, is described simply as a “former slave.”
“Furor over Frederick and Julia subsided for a time in 1854. In February and March, Julia joined Gerrit Smith, now a congressman, in Washington, DC, reporting her observations of the nation’s capital for Frederick Douglass; Paper. In June, she traveled to Canada West, bringing aid to former slave Emily Edmonson for black expatriates suffering from famine.
This is troubling.
I attempted to forewarn Prof. Fought. She alludes to my warning in her acknowledgements:
John Muller, who knows more about Douglass in DC and the neighborhood around Cedar Hill than I thought possible, who pointed me toward the black women whom Douglass worked with there, and who is a meticulous researcher.
That said, I am a street reporter and a street historian. I came up in the community and the community is where I remain.
Scholars, such as Prof. Fought, who cannot debate and have a conversation are not scholars; they are dangerous propagandists of their own distortions, misinterpretations and lies.
Educator Mrs. Fanny Jackson Coppin, namesake of Coppin State University in Baltimore, ran with industrial education advocate Dr. Frederick Douglass
In celebration of Women’s History Month we will make an effort to post weekly about reformist-minded women Dr. Frederick Douglass agitated and ran with in the circles of temperance, suffrage, journalism, education and other activist causes and purposes.
The first woman we feature is educator Mrs. Fanny Jackson Coppin, remembered today by the university on the west side of North Avenue in Baltimore which bears her name.
Whereas another day awaits a detailed account of the working relationship and friendship between Douglass and Coppin, here we share a brief excerpt from Coppin’s 1913 book with a brief anecdote detailing Douglass’ belief in industrial education as a means of economic self-determination.
In the year 1837, the Friends of Philadelphia had established a school for the education of colored youth in higher learning. To make a test whether or not the Negro was capable of acquiring any considerable degree of education. For it was one of the strongest arguments in the defense of slavery, that the Negro was an inferior creation; formed by the Almighty for just the work he was doing.
It is said that John C. Calhoun made the remark, that if there could be found a Negro that could conjugate a Greek verb, he would give up all his preconceived ideas of the inferiority of the Negro. Well, let’s try him, and see, said the fair-minded Quaker people. And for years this institution, known as the Institute for Colored Youth, was visited by interested persons from different parts of the United States and Europe.
Here I was given the delightful task of teaching my own people, and how delighted I was to see them mastering Caesar, Virgil, Cicero, Horace and Xenophon’s Anabasis. We also taught New Testament Greek. It was customary to have public examinations once a year, and when the teachers were thru examining their classes, any interested person in the audience was requested to take it up, and ask questions. At one of such examinations, when I asked a titled Englishman to take the class and examine it, he said: “They are more capable of examining me, their proficiency is simply wonderful.”
One visiting friend was so pleased with the work of the students in the difficult metres in Horace that he afterwards sent me, as a present, the Horace which he used in college. A learned Friend from Germantown, coming into a class in Greek, the first aorist, passive and middle, being so neatly and correctly written at one board, while I, at the same time, was hearing a class recite, exclaimed: “Fanny, I find thee driving a coach and six.” As it is much more difficult to drive a coach and six, than a coach and one, I took it as a compliment. But I was especially glad to know that the students were doing their work so well as to justify Quakers in their fair-minded opinion of them.
General O. O. Howard, who was brought in at one time by one of the managers to hear an examination in Virgil, remarked that Negroes in trigonometry and the classics might well share in the triumphs of their brothers on the battlefield.
When I came to the School, the Principal of the Institute was Ebenezer D. Bassett, who for fourteen years had charge of the work. He was a graduate of the State Normal School of Connecticut, and was a man of unusual natural and acquired ability, and an accurate and ripe scholar; and, withal, a man of great modesty of character. Many are the reminiscences he used to give of the visits of interested persons to the school: among these was a man who had written a book to prove that the Negro was not a man. And, having heard of the wonderful achievements of this Negro school, he determined to come and see for himself what was being accomplished. He brought a friend with him, better versed in algebra than himself, and asked Mr. Bassett to bring out his highest class. There was in the class at that time Jesse Glasgow, a very black boy. All he asked was a chance. Just as fast as they gave the problems, Jesse put them on the board with the greatest ease. This decided the fate of the book, then in manuscript form, which, so far as we know, was never published. Jesse Glasgow afterwards found his way to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
In the year 1869, Mr. Bassett was appointed United States Minister to Hayti by President Grant; leaving the principalship of the Institute vacant. Now, Octavius V. Catto, a professor in the school, and myself, had an opportunity to keep the school up to the same degree of proficiency that it attained under its former Principal and to carry it forward as much as possible.
About this time we were visited by a delegation of school commissioners, seeking teachers for schools in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. These teachers were not required to know and teach the classics, but they were expected to come into an examination upon the English branches, and to have at their tongue’s end the solution of any abstruse problem in the three R’s which their examiners might be inclined to ask them. And now, it seemed best to give up the time spent in teaching Greek and devote it to the English studies.
As our young people were now about to find a ready field in teaching, it was thought well to introduce some text books on school management, and methods of teaching, and thoroughly prepare our students for normal work. At this time our faculty was increased by the addition of Richard T. Greener, a graduate of Harvard College, who took charge of the English Department, and Edward Bouchet, a graduate of Yale College, and also of the Sheffield Scientific School, who took charge of the scientific department. Both of these young men were admirably fitted for their work. And, with Octavius V. Catto in charge of the boys’ department, and myself in charge of the girls–in connection with the principalship of the school–we had a strong working force.
I now instituted a course in normal training, which at first consisted only of a review of English studies, with the theory of teaching, school management and methods. But the inadequacy of this course was so apparent that when it became necessary to reorganize the Preparatory Departments, it was decided to put this work into the hands of the normal students, who would thus have ample practice in teaching and governing under daily direction and correction. These students became so efficient in their work that they were sought for and engaged to teach long before they finished their course of study.
Richard Humphreys, the Friend–Quaker–who gave the first endowment with which to found the school, stipulated that it should not only teach higher literary studies, but that a Mechanical and Industrial Department, including Agriculture, should come within the scope of its work. The wisdom of this thoughtful and far-seeing founder has since been amply demonstrated.
At the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, the foreign exhibits of work done in trade schools opened the eyes of the directors of public education in America as to the great lack existing in our own system of education. If this deficiency was apparent as it related to the white youth of the country, it was far more so as it related to the colored.
In Philadelphia, the only place at the time where a colored boy could learn a trade, was in the House of Refuge, or the Penitentiary!
And now began an eager and intensely earnest crusade to supply this deficiency in the work of the Institute for Colored Youth.
The teachers of the Institute now vigorously applied their energies in collecting funds for the establishment of an Industrial Department, and in this work they had the encouragement of the managers of the school, who were as anxious as we that the greatly needed department should be established.
In instituting this department, a temporary organization was formed, with Mr. Theodore Starr as President, Miss Anna Hallowell as Treasurer, and myself as Field Agent.
The Academic Department of the Institute had been so splendidly successful in proving that the Negro youth was equally capable as others in mastering a higher education, that no argument was necessary to establish its need, but the broad ground of education by which the masses must become self-supporting was, to me, a matter of painful anxiety.
Frederick Douglass once said, it was easier to get a colored boy into a lawyer’s office than into a blacksmith shop; and on account of the inflexibility of the Trades Unions, this condition of affairs still continues, making it necessary for us to have our own “blacksmith shop.”
The minds of our people had to be enlightened upon the necessity of industrial education.
Jackson-Coppin, Fanny. Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints of Teaching. Philadelphia, PA. 1913.
A couple days ago I posted a clipping from the Baltimore Sun indicating Anna Murray Douglass was buried in Graceland Cemetery within days of her death on August 4, 1882. I then called the clerk of Mount Hope Cemetery who told me their records indicate Anna Murray Douglass was buried there in 1882, but didn’t have the exact date of her internment. Fair enough.
A friend and a reader have since sent an article I’d overlooked from February 22, 1895 revealing that upon Frederick’s death in Washington in February 1895, his children intended to “disinter” Anna, who was still buried in DC, now at Glenwood Cemetery (as Graceland Cemetery closed in July 1894), and move her to Rochester to rest alongside Frederick, and their youngest daughter, Annie.
I called over to Glenwood Cemetery on Lincoln Road NE and spoke with Walter, the superintendent. I explained all the background and said I was trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. Ever gracious Walter gave a thorough once-over through the card files and internment book from 1894 until 1896. This would have covered Anna’s possible move from Graceland and/or her disinterment, right Well, Walter didn’t see anything but extended the invitation to come over and check the books out in person, if I’d like.
What I find interesting is, that if Anna Murray Douglass was moved from Graceland to Glenwood, she was moved to what Richardson calls one of the city’s “big five” white cemeteries of the last nineteenth/early 20th century. Those five being, Oak Hill, Rock Creek, Congressional, Glenwood, and Mount Olivet, which was a biracial burial ground. The “big five” of Washington’s black cemeteries of this time, Richardson writes, were Harmony, Payne’s (east of the river), Mount Olivet, Mount Zion, and Mount Pleasant.
Now, back to Mount Hope. The New York Times clipping must be read with a certain level of critical perspicacity. At the time of Frederick’s death in 1895, Rosetta, his oldest daughter, was alive, but his youngest daughter Annie, had been dead for thirty-five years. So, only one of Douglass’ daughters was buried in Rochester, not two.
Calling Mount Hope I spoke with Lydia Sanchez, a clerk at Mount Hope Cemetery which is run by the city of Rochester. I explained Lydia my quandary. Once again, Lydia confirmed that according to Mount Hope’s records Anna Murray Douglass was buried in 1882. It wasn’t until 1888 that datebooks of burials were kept.
With this info, is it correct to say that if Anna Murray Douglass was buried in Mount Hope in late February or early March 1895 alongside her husband of 44 years there would be an exact date. I have a whole collection of newspaper accounts of Douglass’s funeral service in DC and Rochester and his subsequent burial in Rochester that I can examine as well as letters. This is not something I had expected to find, but it’s been found nonetheless.
Foner, Quarles, and McFeely don’t really get into detail about Anna’s death and burial. Deadrich in Love Across Color Lines does go there, stating that Anna was brought to Rochester and buried there right after her death. Her citation does nothing to prove her claim. While Douglass’ other biographers didn’t step up to bat on this one, Diedrich did. But she struck out.
My main man, Frederic May Holland, and his blasphemously ignored work 19th century work on Douglass, may come the closest to to giving some valuable clues to solving his mystery.
Will look into this further and get up another post. To be continued….