Posts Tagged Blanche Bruce

Support creation of Frederick Douglass mural at 16th & W Street SE with a small donation!

The new owner of the corner store at 16th & W Street SE in Old Historic Anacostia has supported an effort to create a mural on the 16th Street SE side of his building which will bring attention to and honor the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial.

Our ambitious plan for installation is BEFORE and/or during Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, coinciding with the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site’s celebration of the Douglass birthday with speakers / presenters mostly from outside of the community. The mural installation will involve the local community and bring the spirit of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial to the streets he walked and neighborhood he called home.

We are seeking to cover the costs of the muralist’s design time and labor, in addition to costs of materials such as paint, brushes, painter’s tape and other incidentals.

There will be outreach to involve local children and teenagers and local media to generate positive attention to the legacy and importance of Frederick Douglass to the local community of Old Anacostia and specifically the inhabitants of W Street SE and surrounding environs.

To support this effort please consider making a small donation.

Thank you!

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Frederick Douglass hosts Liberian officials in Uniontown [Evening Star, 25 June 1880]

In the late 19th century, while Frederick Douglass lived in Anacostia, scores of notable men and women came to Cedar Hill. In conversation Monday with Mr. Donet D. Graves, Esq. about his ancestor James Wormley, I learned of a dinner Douglass held hosting officials from Liberia.

For Douglassonian scholars this should be of some intrigue because Douglass was forceful in his denunciation of “colonization” efforts throughout his life. Without getting too much into the specific history of Liberia or “colonization” efforts both nationally and in the District, I only learned a couple years ago that there was such a concentration of black Marylanders in Liberia that there was a republic named “Maryland” in Liberia. Maps of Africa from the late 18th century – early 19th century regularly reflect this. Today there is a county in Liberia named Maryland.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Without further delay, here’s the brief news item.

MARSHALL DOUGLASS entertained at dinner at his residence, at Uniontown, yesterday afternoon. Dr. E. W. Blyden, minister of Liberia to England, and Hon. John H. Smythe, U.S. minister resident to Liberia, at which dinner were also present Senator Bruce, Prof. Greener, L. H. Douglass, Robert Parker, James Wormley, Fred. Douglass, jr., and Charles Douglass.


Evening Star. 25 June 1880, p. 1 Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Thank you to Donet D. Graves, Esq., a gentleman and scholar, for this helpful lead.

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If Anna Murray Douglass was buried in DC’s Graceland Cemetery then how and why did she end up in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester?

In life Anna Murray Douglass, the wife of Frederick Douglass for 44 years and mother to their five children, is largely a mystery to historians. In death, she’s still a mystery.

According to her Certificate of Death from August 1882, the 69-year old Anna Murray Douglass, originally of Denton, in Caroline County, Maryland died August 4th of “Paralysis – Hemiplegia.” By care of an undertaker from Anacostia, she he was buried in Graceland Cemetery on August 6th, 1882.

According to the Baltimore Sun‘s “Washington Letter” from August 8, 1882, “The funeral of Mrs. Frederick Douglass yesterday was attended by a large concourse of both white and colored, on foot and in carriages. The funeral procession, a long one, carried the remains to Grace Cemetery, where she was laid to rest by Hon. B.K. Bruce, John F. Cook, Jas. Wormley, Dr. Green, B.D. Woods, and Robert Parker, the pall-bearers.”

In “The Burial Grounds of Black Washington: 1880-1919” published in Vol. 52 of the Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Steven J. Richardson writes, “The only predominately black cemetery that interred a significant number of whites was Graceland Cemetery, established in 1872. Located just south of Mount Olivet on Bladensburg Road, just beyond the Florida Street boundary, N.E., Graceland was a popular biracial cemetery during its brief existence.”

Between 1880 and 1894, Graceland buried 4,722 black Washingtonians and 1,073 white Washingtonians. In 1890 and 1891, Graceland was the final resting place for more blacks than any other cemetery in the city.

Its popularity notwithstanding, with development encroaching and its location on “marshy land,” Graceland closed on July 23, 1894. Many were reinterred at the recently opened Woodlawn Cemetery, on Benning Road NE. (The final resting place for Blanche K. Bruce, John Mercer Langston, and other men and women of local and national prominence.)

So, that means Anna Murray Douglass is buried in Woodland Cemetery and cared for and watched over by the retired United States Marine Tyrone F. General and his corps of volunteers and patriots that are saving Woodlawn, right? No. Today Anna Murray Douglass is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York alongside her husband, Frederick Douglass. Helen Pitts Douglass, the second wide of Frederick Douglass, is also buried in Mount Hope.

I spoke with the clerk of Mount Hope who confirmed that, according to their records, Anna Murray Douglass was buried in Mount Hope in 1882. Unfortunately, there was is no record of the exact date of Anna’s internment, as there is for Helen (12/9/1903).

“That’s quite common for that period,” I was told.

So there it is. Another mystery. I’d imagine there are Rochester and other upstate New York newspaper accounts of Anna’s burial (re-burial) at Mount Hope and I might be able to dig up something in the LOC’s FD papers but more than likely I won’t able to solve this before the final deadline.

But I think it’s fair to say two things about Anna Murray Douglass, 1) Without Anna Murray Douglass the world might never have known Frederick Douglass and 2) At one point Anna Murray Douglass was buried in Washington, DC.

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Francis Grimke tells story of “The Second Marriage of Frederick Douglass” [The Journal of Negro History, 1934]

Writing in The Journal of Negro History in 1934, Francis J. Grimke reveals details about Frederick Douglass’ 1884 marriage to Helen Pitts previously known only by a very intimate group.


In connection with the last anniversary of Mr. Douglass’ birthday, I became reminiscent, and recalled many events, and among them the marriage of Mr. Douglass. While he was Recorder of Deeds, one day, while I was in the neighborhood of his office I thought I would drop in and pay my respects to him. When I entered the room he was seated at his desk eating his lunch, and by his side was a lady seated in conversation with him. In a few minutes she left the room. On seeing me, Mr. Douglass said, “You are just the man that I want to see. I was just thinking about calling on you.” To which I said, “Well, what’s up?” He said, “I am thinking about getting married, and I want you to perform the ceremony.” I said, “I will be delighted to do so.”

I then said to him, “and who is the fortunate lady?”

There were rumors afloat in the community that he was interested in one of two prominent women of the race, and that one or the other, if he ever got married [Anna Murray Douglass, his wife of 44 years, passed away in the fall of 1882], would be his choice. I was curious to know which of them. But to my surprise, neither of them was mentioned. He said, “Did you see the lady that was sitting by me when you came into the room?” I said, Yes. “She is the one.”

And then he went on to tell me her name, Miss Helen Pitts. He said also that he had known the family for years. The father was a well-to-do farmer in Western New York, and was a staunch abolitionist. He had often been at her father’s house; and remembered her well, little dreaming, that in the years to come, she was to be his wife. The time fixed for the wedding was January 24, 1884. Mr. Douglass was sixty years of age, and she was forty-six.

On the evening set for the wedding, two carriages drove up to my door, 1608 R Street, N.W. The bell rang, and Mr. Douglass, Miss Pitts, and Senator and Mrs. B. K. Bruce entered. After bidding them welcome, and chatting for a few minutes, the ceremony was performed. Miss Pitts became Mrs. Douglass. ”

For some background on Grimke and his family, I suggest taking a look at, Lift Up Thy Voice: The Grimke Family’s Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders.

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1884 Marriage License for Frederick Douglass of Washington, DC and Helen Pitts of New York


To any Minister of the Gospel authorized to Celebrate Marriages in the District of Columbia, Greeting

You are hereby LICENSED to solemnize the RITES OF MARRIAGE between

Frederick Douglass, of Washington, DC AND Helen Pitts, of New York

if you find no lawful impediment thereto; and having so done you are commanded to appear in the Clerk’s Office of the Supreme Court of said District and certify the same.

Witness my hand and the seal of said Court this 24 day of January 1884

There were only four people present at the exchange of vows between Douglass and Pitts. Douglass’ children literally learned about the marriage through the papers. Pitts’ father, an abolitionist in Western New York who had invited a younger Douglass into his home, disowned his daughter for now marrying Douglass.

Thanks is in order to the DC Archives for generously providing this document.

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Charles Douglass calls swearing-in of Senator H.R. Revels “one of the greatest days” in “the history of this country.” Tells his father “the door is open, and I expect yet to see you pass in”

The first black American seated as a member of the United States Senate was Hiram Rhodes Revels representing Mississippi. Revels filled the seat vacated by Jefferson Davis, who left to serve as the President of the Confederate States of America, truly the personification of Lord Byron’s famous line in the long-form poem, “Don Juan,” that “truth is stranger than fiction.” Indeed.

According to Black Americans in Congress, “Revels arrived in Washington at the end of January 1870, but could not present his credentials until Mississippi was readmitted to the United States on February 23. Senate Republicans sought to swear in Revels immediately afterwards, but Senate Democrats were determined to block the effort. Led by Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky and Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware, the Democrats claimed Revels’s election was null and void, arguing that Mississippi was under military rule and lacked a civil government to confirm his election. Others claimed Revels was not a U.S. citizen until the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 and was therefore ineligible to become a U.S. Senator. Senate Republicans rallied to his defense. Though Revels would not fill Davis’s seat, the symbolism of a black man’s admission to the Senate after the departure of the former President of the Confederacy was not lost on Radical Republicans. Nevada Senator James Nye underlined the significance of this event: “[Jefferson Davis] went out to establish a government whose cornerstone should be the oppression and perpetual enslavement of a race because their skin differed in color from his,” Nye declared. “Sir, what a magnificent spectacle of retributive justice is witnessed here today! In the place of that proud, defiant man, who marched out to trample under foot the Constitution and the laws of the country he had sworn to support, comes back one of that humble race whom he would have enslaved forever to take and occupy his seat upon this floor.”

Up in the Senate Gallery that day, taking all of this in, was Charles R. Douglass. In a February 26th letter, to his “Father,” Frederick Douglass, Charles wrote,

Yesterday was one of the greatest days to me, in the history of this country. I was present and listened to the dying groans of the last of the Democracy, it was on the occasion of administering the oath to H.R. Revels as U.S. Senator. The Democrats fought hard, but were met on all sides with unanswerable arguments on behalf of justice and right. The fight was on the citizenship of colored men. Even that dead & odious “Dred Scott Decision” was lugged in by the Democrats to show that blacks were not citizens, but Senators Scott of Pennsylvania, Drake of Mo., Stewart of Nev., Nye of Nev., Sawyer of S.C., Trumbull & many others knocked that decision higher than a kite, by their strong and logical arguments. Senator Wilson appeared to be the happiest man in the whole body not even excepting Revels, who advanced to the desk and took the oath in a very dignified manner. I hope that he may bear up under the new responsibilities, but I fear he is weak.

Many voices in the Galleries were heard by me to say, ‘If it would only have been Fred Douglass,’ and my heart beat rapidly when I looked into that crowded Gallery, and upon the crowded floor, to notice the deep and great interest manifested all around, it looked solemn and the thought flashed from my mind that that honor, for the first time conferred upon a colored man, should have been conferred upon you and I am satisfied that many Senators would much more willingly see you come there than to see that Reverend gentlemen who has just taken his seat.

But the door is open, and I expect yet to see you pass in, not though, as a tool as I think this man is, to fill out an unexpired term of one year, earning from a state too that has a large majority – of colored votes; but from your native state to fill the chair for the long and fullest term of either Vickers or Hamilton – who only yesterday, made long wails and harangues against negro citizenship.”

Frederick Douglass never did run for a seat in the United States Senate, nor was he appointed.

To this day there have only been six black American members of the United States Senate, five elected. Only three have served full-terms. The six are Revels (R) Mississippi, Blanche Kelso Bruce (R) Mississippi [full-term], Washington, DC’s own Edward Brooke (R) Massachusetts [full-term, 2], Carol Mosley Braun (D) Illinois [full-term], Barack Obama (D) Illinois (vacated his seat when he won the 2008 Presidential race), Roland Burris (D) Illinois (filled seat vacated by Obama).

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