Posts Tagged Ed Papenfuse

Johns Hopkins News-Letter, “Scholars explore personal life of Frederick Douglass” (March 7, 2019)

Scholars explore personal life of Frederick Douglass

By JERRY WU | March 7, 2019


John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C., and Ida Jones, archivist at Morgan State University, presented new research on Frederick Douglass at the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Thursday, Feb. 28. The research centered around Douglass’ experiences as a young man in Baltimore and sought to fill in narrative holes regarding his life.

Douglass is known for his work on abolitionism, social reform and literary works. He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey and later changed his last name to Douglass at the suggestion of a member of the Underground Railroad who had harbored him during his escape from slavery.

Community member Derrick Camper noted that these personal details add to Douglass’ story as a historical figure.

“We always get this one thing about him, just like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X,” Camper said. “But there’s more to him than what you read and see on T.V. There’s a person behind him.”

Muller and Jones’ research focused on other aspects of Douglass’ personal life, particularly his formative years in Baltimore. In his presentation, Muller told a story about Douglass’ purchase of a book in Baltimore, an event that may have been a catalyst for his later activism.

“When Douglass is about 12 years old, he buys the book The Columbian OratorThe Columbian Orator was a collection of essays and a very popular schoolbook of its day. There is a dialogue between a master and a slave in The Columbian Orator. Douglass talks extensively of how this book resonated with him and how important it was to his personal history,” he said.

According to Muller, the purchase of this book would not have been possible without the help of a little-known figure named Nathaniel Knight. Briefly mentioned in Douglass’ 1892 autobiography, Knight was a bookseller and prominent community member in the Fell’s Point neighborhood. By selling to books to Douglass, Knight was taking a big risk.

“This guy was breaking the law. Big time breaking the law,” Muller said. “He was a radical bookseller. This is a very radical action… He was supplying the black community with literature and a lot of other things, which he should not have been doing because it was illegal.”

Muller and Jones consider Knight just one of the many forgotten figures in what they call “the lost history of Frederick Douglass.” Jones said that it is necessary to understand the more quotidian aspects of Douglass’ life through his research. According to the researchers, this process has not been easy.

“African-American history has largely been an oral tradition,” Jones said. “Documentary evidence is lacking.”

As a result, scholars have had to rely heavily on Douglass’ autobiographies to study his personal life, which, though insightful, do not provide an all-encompassing chronicle.

However, having pored through many historical documents in their research, Muller and Jones have uncovered new information that adds texture to Douglass’ story.

“I found something in a newspaper from 1917, in which Richard Greener (the first black graduate of Harvard College) recalled a story that Frederick Douglass had told him about why he wore his hair the way he did,” Muller said. “The reason, according to Douglass, was that as a young man, possibly in Baltimore, he saw a picture of Alexander Dumas, the Afro-Franco writer. Douglass was struck by Dumas’ presentation as very unapologetically African, and Douglass adopted that hairstyle for his entire life.”

Jones added that these details and interesting facts bring Douglass’ story to life.

“When you’re able to find the historical records on various people that Douglass interacted with and people who had an influence on Douglass’s life, you get a sense of dimension to Douglass where he’s not only this lofty elder statesman but also a regular person,” Jones said. “He was a teenager. He did run the streets with the Fell’s Point boys. He lived a life similar to our own. It makes him much more relatable.”

Muller clarified that making Douglass more relatable in no way tarnishes his legacy. On the contrary, Muller asserted that by moving past the mythologized version of Douglass, one could begin to examine the tangible impact he had on people of his day. Muller said that Douglass spoke to benefit churches, night schools, scholarship funds and orphanages. For Douglass, it was not only about making grand speeches and writing letters to President Abraham Lincoln but also doing little things to help people in his community.

Jones said that the mythologized version of Douglass remains deeply ingrained in people’s psyche. When asked about what she thought of his legacy, Jones acknowledged this.

“Douglass became a paragon of what’s possible as an African American,” she said. “But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Mythologized figures are essential to how we think of ourselves as Americans. Figures like Douglass inspire us to stand up for what we know is right, whether it be in the fight against racism, sexism, inequality or any other injustice.”

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Video: JHU Professor Martha S. Jones discusses “Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America” and Editor’s Note

 


Editor’s Note:

Johns Hopkins University Professor of History Martha S. Jones has been around the corner and across the world uplifting lost history as of late.

In her groundbreaking work, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Prof. Jones documents the legal declarations and assertions of citizenship made by the antebellum black community of Baltimore City in radical opposition to the Maryland state legislature supporting African colonization as a matter of long-term public policy.  Colonization was supported with a capital budget.

As a street historian I have picked up old maps of Africa which show “Maryland” as a state or county of Liberia. I eventually learned in 1832 the state of Maryland funded a census of all free black folks in the state to better inform its policy efforts in the colonization of black Marylanders.

The era and epoch of Baltimore community history in which Prof. Jones chronicles is from whence Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass emerges and escapes in September 1838.

I suggest scholars take the lead of Prof. Jones and get to studying and researching. There is much work to be done to correct generations of incomplete scholarship and lies.

JM

P.S. I will be referencing Prof. Jones work on Thursday, February 28, 2019 at the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Library in the presentation of “The Lost History of Frederick (Bailey) in Baltimore.” Morgan State University archivist Dr. Ida E. Jones will offer remarks and moderate.


Follow Prof. Jones on her blog: http://marthasjones.com/blog/

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General Samuel Smith, Mayor of Baltimore during Frederick Bailey’s flight to freedom, served as Vice President of founding of Maryland Colonization Society

General Samuel Smith Rembrandt Peale.jpeg

“General Samuel Smith,” oil on canvas, by the Rembrandt Peale. Maryland Historical Society.

Coming up running corners, alleys and the market square with the Point Boys, by the fall of 1838 the intellectually defiant, rebellious spirit of Frederick Bailey, known to leaders in both the white and free black community, got ghost.

On the 3rd of September 1838 General Samuel Smith, a veteran of the War of 1812, United States Congress and United States Senate, served as Mayor of Baltimore City.

In studying Douglass few biographers get into the specifics of his time in Fells Point. In recent years Dr. Ed Papenfuse and Prof. Lawrence Jackson have begun to uplift the scholarship.

Dickson Preston’s groundbreaking and influential Young Frederick Douglass is the only book which gives substantial attention to Fells Point. McFeely captures an especially interesting story from Fells Point folklore that survived nearly 150 years.

Has any Douglass scholar looked into the political climate of Baltimore City from 1820 until 1840?

I do not know but I can’t recall ever reading about the Mayor and City Council in existing Douglass Studies literature — specifically General Smith who in 1827 served as a founding Vice President to the Maryland Colonization Society, an auxiliary of the American Colonization Society.

While living in Fells Point the teenage Bailey had a connection with a Justice of the Peace who also served as an elector in municipal and statewide elections.

I won’t get into speculative and vacuous psychological scholarship to explain that this association Bailey had was important.

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Point Boys Douglassonians: Dr. Edward Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired, presents on the Baltimore Anna Murray and Frederick Bailey left behind.

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