Posts Tagged John Stauffer

Video: How Frederick Douglass Used Photography to Talk About Race (WGBH Forum, 2016)


Frederick Douglass was in love with photography. From his earliest known photograph in 1841 until his passing in 1895, he sat for his portrait whenever he could and became the most photographed American of the nineteenth century; more photographed than President Abraham Lincoln. In this first major exhibition of Douglass photographs, we offer a visually stunning re-introduction to America’s first black celebrity — immediately recognizable in his own lifetime by millions.

Scholars John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd are the co-curators of the exhibit [Picturing Frederick Douglass] (http://maah.org/exhibits.htm), based upon their acclaimed book about the famed abolitionist’s photographs. They join Dr. Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, to discuss the impact of the wide distribution of images of Douglass.

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David Blight continues to make tortuously offensive and racist remarks; wants to “chain” Frederick Douglass; “We might even have to strap him down to a chair!” (Pt. 2)

Despite public warnings to discontinue his disrespectful, speculative and racist remarks about Dr. Frederick Douglass and members of the Bailey Tribe, Yale Professor David Blight has nevertheless persisted in making remarks describing a pseudo-psycho fantasy of restraining Douglass with other historians to question Douglass about his “manipulative” biographies.

On at least two previous occasions Blight has talked about putting Douglass in a “chain.”

While at Linfield College he has now adjusted his remarks:

We might even have to strap him down to a chair! Which is not a good metaphor for a former slave.

Excerpt of remarks by Yale University professor David Blight at Linfield College in Oregon:

The first problem you face as a biographer of Douglass is the autobiographies. The autobiographies becomes themselves a theme, themselves a subject throughout trying to write about the life of Douglass. Because he imposed 1200 hundred words of autobiography on us.

My image of Douglass is. And I’ve had so many nightmares about this but my, my image of Douglass is he’s sitting in a little seminar room and I’ve got him, I’ve got him trapped.

You know, Leigh Fought’s there. And John Stauffer’s there. And maybe we’ll let Skip Gates come. Nicolos Buccola will come.

We’re going to get him in a room! And we’re going to have him!

We might even have to strap him down to a chair! Which is not a good metaphor for a former slave. (laughter)

But anyway, (tapping podium) we got him now. And we’re going to pump him with the questions we want to ask.

This is not humorous, Prof. Blight. I am no psychologist from conversations I’ve had folks are saying this is “latent racism” or “closet racism.” Another Douglassonian said, “He wouldn’t have been allowed to say that in the 1960s or 1970s when Dr. Quarles and Dr. Franklin were on the scene.”

Any historian who defends these remarks does not know and have respect for the legacy of Dr. Douglass throughout Maryland’s Eastern Shore and/or Old Anacostia. We can’t speak for Rochester, Fells Point and other areas but we dare speculate these repeated references to putting Dr. Douglass in a “chain” or “strap” would not be well received.

Any historian who defends these remarks is supporting a racist who, after being warned, has continued to disgrace the honor and scholarship of Dr. Frederick Douglass.

Any historian who defends these remarks has no respect for Dr. Frederick Douglass.

Any historian who defends these remarks is no scholar of Dr. Frederick Douglass.

Prof Blight’s remarks are not condoned by inhabitants of Old Anacostia who have been made aware of his racism.

Scholarship, not speculation. Dr. Douglass deserves betters. Yale deserves better.

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Harvard Prof. John Stauffer fails to acknowledge first modern Douglass biographer Dr. Benjamin Quarles

Stauffer in BaltimoreThe legacy of Dr. Benjamin Quarles of Morgan State University, the first modern Douglass biographer, is sacred.

On Saturday, February 10, 2018 Harvard Professor John Stauffer presented at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore. Before Prof. Stauffer spoke I introduced myself and made brief conversation. I shared with Prof. Stauffer my belief that Douglass has yet to benefit from the full force historical detective work of a biographer who captures the full depth of his entire local, national and international life. We exchanged our opinions of Douglass biographies.

I shared my opinion that McFeely’s work is speculative garbage. Prof. Stauffer professed his affinity for the work of Prof. Nathan I. Huggins. I shared my evaluation that Huggins’ book is a predictable regurgitation of Douglass’ own autobiographical writings, a route many “Douglass biographers” have taken across generations.

Expressing my continued dismissal of much of the scholarly writing on Douglass, Prof. Stauffer asked what I considered worth reading. Holland, Gregory, Quarles, Foner and Preston, of course, I responded.

I then asked his source for his expanding a speculative claim. We discontinued our conversation. I offered Prof. Stauffer a forewarning I’d be listening to his presentation closely.  I relayed my lack of reverence for Prof. David Blight, his former professor, and my evaluation of Blight “scholarship” as dangerous and blasphemous speculation.

I took my seat at the top of the rafters.

Prof. Stauffer initiated his presentation with a phrenology print. A studied Douglass scholar would have shared the consequential context, of which there is much, for what this specific print and the American Phrenology movement meant to Douglass.

It is a matter of the historic record what Douglass said and wrote about phrenology. Douglass broke it down with the sober focus and intense dedication of a fugitive slave-scholar.

As one of a small tribe of American bondsmen who could command the attention of the country’s ruling elites, Douglass had earned the requisite intellectual authority to speak on philosophical questions of the American character.

To speak with authority requires research, research Stauffer did not know.

More than half-way through his talk Stauffer began to discuss the historiography of Douglass studies. Speaking before a largely African-American audience in the largely African-American metropolis of Baltimore Stauffer began by offering Phil Foner as Douglass’s first modern biography.

From the back I spoke up and offered before the entire audience that Dr. Benjamin Quarles of Baltimore’s Morgan State University is the first modern Douglass biographer.

Stauffer acknowledge the fact. I opined to the confused audience that it was my job to make sure the facts shared were accurate. They tendered a meek laugh.

Keeping my comments to myself during the remainder of the professor’s presentation I was prompted to speak up during the audience Q&A.

A young woman asked Stauffer about the connections between Frederick Douglass and Howard University.

After Stauffer sustained an elongated pause I made it my place to speak, again, and shared with the questioner there would be a presentation of Frederick Douglass and Howard University later in the month. Stauffer had no response to the question. Nothing about Douglass and Howard nor the relationship between Douglass and Fanny Jackson Coppin.

After the crowd dispersed completely I spoke with Prof. Stauffer one on one.

I respectfully shared my thoughts: for someone who has made a career of speaking about the history of African American writers and historical figures his failure to mention, let alone acknowledge in specialized remarks, Dr. Benjamin Quarles, a member of the sacred Hall of Fame of Douglassonian Historians, is impious.

I told Stauffer his error to cite Quarles was inexcusable. No excuse would suffice.

In an effort to defend his lack of scholarly understanding Stauffer offered that he had cited Dr. Quarles in a previous book. I countered it did not matter because when given the platform to recognize Dr. Quarles he chose not to.

In the final analysis, the inability of Ivy League professors to do basic work to comprehend the requirements of Douglass scholarship clearly demonstrate the lack of academic rigor demanded by their respective hallowed centers of learning. The lack of scholarly standards, which allows for a repetitious cycle of stale “scholarship” to be promoted and celebrated in the place of of focused Douglass scholarship, has been perpetuated by hundreds of philanthropic, academic, government and public history associations and institutions over decades.

It is time for the lies to stop. Been time.

 

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Harvard’s John Stauffer has actively perpetuated a lie about Anna teaching Frederick how to play the violin for a decade. It is unnecessary and needs to be corrected. (Part 1)

Stauffer in BaltimoreLast year I saw the last show of The Agitators at the Geva Theatre in Rochester. Among some of my critiques of the play was a scene that insinuated Anna Douglass played the violin in tandem with her husband, Frederick.

While not a major technical foul it struck me as forced, unnecessary and without any source provenance I’d seen or could recall. While it was in the context of a play I can understand the need for imagination but the play’s handbill made the point that a dramaturge had closely reviewed the play. Mentioned as folks who had lent their expertise was Harvard’s John Stauffer.

In conversations with Douglassonians following the play it was advanced that Stauffer was the likely source for the violin reference as his 2008 book, Giants, makes mention of this make-believe embellishment on page 71.

Her name was Anna Murray and she was a free woman, having been born free on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She had almond-shaped eyes, a full round face, and dark skin, and she worked as a maid for the Wells family on South Caroline Street in Baltimore. At twenty-five, she was five years older than Frederick and had moved to Baltimore at age seventeen. Quiet and hardworking, she was virtually illiterate but could read music, and when she played Haydn or Handel on her violin her hymns seemed to enchant the room. She taught Frederick the violin, he was a quick study, and soon they were playing duets.

This weekend I met Stauffer for the first time.

I asked him about the reference of Anna teaching Frederick how to play the violin. He told me it was in Life and Times and said he’d send me the citation. Since he has yet to do so I am taking the initiative.

NO existing references in Life and Times in either 1881 or 1892 revision.

1881 version of Life and Times references to the violin.

p. 143

The fiddling, dancing, and “jubilee beating” was carried on in all directions. This latter performance was strictly southern. It supplied the place of violin, or of other musical instruments, and was played so easily that almost every farm had its “Juba” beater.

1892 version of Life and Times references to the violin.

p. 181

The fiddling, dancing, and “jubilee beating” was carried on in all directions. This latter performance was strictly southern. It supplied the place of violin or other musical instruments and was played so easily that almost every farm had its “Juba” beater. The performer improvised as he beat the instrument, marking the words as he sang so as to have them fall pat with the movement of his hands.

p. 691

But of all the interesting objects collected in the Museum of Genoa, the one that touched me most was the violin that had belonged to and been played upon by Paganini, the greatest musical genius of his time. This violin is treasured in a glass case and beyond the touch of careless fingers, a thing to be seen and not handled.

p. 692

So this old violin, made after the pattern of others and perhaps not more perfect in its construction and tone than hundreds seen elsewhere, detained me longer and interested me more than anything else in the Museum of Genoa. Emerson says, “It is not the thing said, but the man behind it, that is important.” So it was not this old violin, but the marvelous man behind it, the man who had played on it and played as never man played before, and thrilled the hearts of thousands by his playing, that made it a precious object in my eyes. Owing perhaps to my love of music and of the violin in particular, I would have given more for that old violin of wood, horse-hair, and catgut than for any one of the long line of pictures I saw before me. I desired it on account of the man who had played upon it–the man who revealed its powers and possibilities as they were never known before. This was his old violin, his favorite instrument, the companion of his toils and triumphs, the solace of his private hours, the minister to his soul in his battles with sin and sorrow. It had delighted thousands. Men had listened to it with admiration and wonder. It had filled the largest halls of Europe with a concord of sweet sounds. It had even stirred the dull hearts of courts, kings and princes, and revealed to them their kinship to common mortals as perhaps had been done by no other instrument. It was with some difficulty that I moved away from this old violin of Paginini.

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We will follow-up this post with the existing source material which details how, where and when Douglass took up the violin, as well as a scholarly critique of Stauffer’s presentation on Douglass at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum where he failed to acknowledge the scholarship of Baltimorean Douglassonian Dr. Benjamin Quarles of Morgan State University, among other errors.

We are critical of “Douglass experts” at Yale and Harvard because their erroneous scholarship and speculation should not be acceptable from a high school student let alone from Professors at these two prestigious universities.

It shouldn’t be me calling them out, but call them out I will. Anything less would be a disservice to the truth.

 

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