Posts Tagged from the streets
Did Frederick Douglass buy “The New Era” from colored newspaper boy? Front page of “The New Era” [Thursday, January 13, 1870]
For black newspaper boys holding their street corners throughout downtown Washington, on Thursday January 13, 1870 there was a new paper to hawk, a paper uniquely speaking to their emerging place in the country and city, “The New Era.”
We forget Frederick Douglass came up in the streets of 1830’s Baltimore; he was always for the youngster on the make. From students at Howard University invited into his home(s) in the city to adolescent runaways in Rochester that Anna and Frederick helped shuttle to Canada, Douglass was ALWAYS there for the youngsters. His attitude was not I got mine, so get yours. Douglass’ attitude and message was I got mine this way, you can get yours this same way or other ways, but you CAN get it if you work hard, work hard, and don’t stop working hard and while working hard you believe in yourself. And at least one person believes in you, I do.
Frederick Douglass could break it down, he’d been there before and never forgot.I’ve heard through the grapevine of an account of a black newspaper boy seeing Frederick Douglass one morning on Pennsylvania Avenue and running up to him to talk — and sell a paper! When I first heard this I thought Douglass surely would have cut an image on the Avenue. The story goes that Douglass not only spoke to the young man, asking him questions about who he was and what he wanted to be, but that he gave him a “large tip” in life advice and a couple extra dollars. With my research approaching the stop sign as I’m weaving the chapters together I probably won’t have time to pursue this but I have two solid leads on where this account might be — if it does exist. This is another post I will have to update when I either confirm or reject this account.
Intrigue and speculation often times leads nowhere but this account from what I know of Douglass rings true.
Congressional Record: “Whenever [Frederick Douglass] got in sight of the Dome of the Capitol in Washington, he always felt as though he wanted to steal something.”
Frederick Douglass was no born fool, simpleton, sucker, or gump. He came up from slavery, he came up in the the streets of Jacksonian Baltimore. As has been better said by others before the “overly honorific public memory of Douglass belies a life entirely defined by action—sometimes action-hero type action. Frederick Douglass was a fighter.”
Now, don’t get it twisted or tangled. Douglass was a fighter but he was no criminal. At one time he may have been a fugitive slave, an outlaw, but he was honest, principled, and earned everything he had coming to him. With the exception of his flight from slavery, where Douglass stole himself from his master, Douglass scholars have found no quivering in his strict adherence to and advocacy for a society based on laws.
However his devoutness to the most basic American ideals and values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, Douglass was still from the streets and was funny with it when he wanted to be. Take the following example as evidence of a side of Douglass which has been touched on by scholars but does not permeate the public’s perception of him as stoic, stern, and stone-cold serious.
On February 20, 1878 United States Congressman from Wisconsin Charles G. Williams, who’d lived in Rochester during the years Douglass called the city home, revealed an insight into his relationship with his friend, the US Marshal for the District of Columbia.
“Reading of this infectious feeling in that office I was reminded of an ironical remark which I heard Mr. Frederick Douglass make some years ago. He said he could never account for it: but somehow, whenever he got in sight of the Dome of the Capitol in Washington, he always felt as though he wanted to steal something.” [Congressional Record, House, February 20, 1878 – 7 Cong. Rec. 1227 1878]
Was Douglass joking or dead-serious or dead-serious although joking?
One of the greatest writers of the late 19th century was Stephen Crane. One of the greatest Americans of the 19th century was Frederick Douglass. What do these men have in common? Both inspired and created “rows,” a loosely defined 19th century version of a clique, crew, set, gang, or MOB.
A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil’s Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him. His infantile countenance was livid with fury. His small body was writhing in the delivery of great, crimson oaths.
Some Rum Alley children now came forward. The party stood for a moment exchanging vainglorious remarks with Devil’s Row. A few stones were thrown at long distances, and words of challenge passed between small warriors. Then the Rum Alley contingent turned slowly in the direction of their home street. They began to give, each to each, distorted versions of the fight. Causes of retreat in particular cases were magnified. Blows dealt in the fight were enlarged to catapultian power, and stones thrown were alleged to have hurtled with infinite accuracy. Valor grew strong again, and the little boys began to swear with great spirit.
“Ah, we blokies kin lick deh hull damn Row,” said a child, swaggering.
What does this have to do with Douglass? From the March 20th, 1877 The Daily Critic…
“A Fred. Douglass Row.
This morning, about 10 o’clock, Archie Johnson and John Craig, both colored, were standing on the corner of Seventh and D streets northwest, discussing the political situation in general and the appointment of Fred Douglass as Marshal of the District in particular. Archie is a strong Douglass man, and Johnson believes that the present Marshal has no right to hold his position. Argument failing to convince, they took to blows, and had a lively time in pummeling each other about the head, until Officers Grant, of the Sixth precinct arrived and put in his argument, which was to take them to Police Court, where Judge Snell settled the dispute by fining them each $5 for affray.”
“ARAB” tells readers of the Washington Bee [October 19, 1889] “Give the old man credit” and lists “material aid” Frederick Douglass has tendered to “young Negroes”
FREDERICK DOUGLASS WHAT IS SAID HE HAS DONE FOR THE NEGRO NORTH – GIVE THE OLD MAN CREDIT To the “Colored Veteran:” William Belkizer, of New York City, Preston Jackson, of Oxford, Ohio, Jermiah Perkins, of Rochester, N.Y., young colored men were taken by Mr. Frederick Douglass into his family the same as his own sons – fed, clothed, and taught the printers trade – all at Mr. Douglass’ expense and before the war. Nathaniel Moore, another young Negro was brought up and schooled by Mr. Douglass, Miss Mary Smith of Troy, N.Y., now married and residing in California, was also reared and educated in Mr. Douglass’ family along with his own children. Since the war, William E. Winston, a young Negro refugee from Alabama, was taken by Mr. Douglass at the age of fourteen, kept in school for five years in Rochester, N.Y., put to printers trade, and at the time of his death was receiving $90.00 per month at the Government Printing Office. Charles Mitchell of Maryland, up to a few years ago, made his home with Mr. Douglass and was kept in school for several years. Only last week paid Mr. Douglass a visit, and he is doing well. A score of other young colored men, if they cared to own the truth, can testify to the material aid given them by Mr. Douglass time after time, while trying to learn a trade or get an education. No enterprise of any importance, gotten up by colored people of his country, either before or since the war, but what has had his material support – not one. These facts are pretty well known to colored people worth considering, with perhaps a few exceptions, but as a correspondent of “The Washington Bee” asks “how many colored men and women and has he ever helped to get an education or [learn] a trade? and what public enterprise has he ever encouraged with his vas means?” I thought to recall the foregoing instances coming under my personal observation. I don’t know that Mr. Douglass is under any more obligation to educate other people’s children than any other man. I don’t know of a single obligation that he is under to his race (so called.) I don’t know that he ever held a position of any profit by their votes of encouragement. If ever a man in this world can lay claim to being self-made, that man is Mr. Douglass. He has never claimed leadership. He has never been an office seeker for himself, though he has a right to accept office, or say what he liked when asked. The young Negroes of today, who are spending their time and talent in trying to bring him into disrepute with his people, are the very ones who should be the most thankful for his past services, for had it not been for his early efforts, and those associated with him they would to-day be on the plantation of their parents former masters. I trust I may be pardoned for taking up so much of your limited space in my reply to the gentlemen from Albany, whose non de plume is “Saracen.” ARAB.
[Is ARAB Helen Pitts, Rosetta Douglass Sprague…?]
Washington Bee, 19 October, 1889, 1.
* This was printed in numerous papers throughout the country.*