Posts Tagged Johns Hopkins University
For the last thirty years of his life Frederick (Bailey) Douglass was a frequent presence in Baltimore City.
Douglass attended the horse races, citywide parades, developed real estate properties, maintained connections with childhood friends and spoke within and to benefit local churches, local schools, community centers and orphanages.
Earlier this week, Johns Hopkins University rolled out “news” regarding its founder that has reportedly been known for generations within the community of local researchers and local historians.
Did Frederick (Bailey) Douglass lecture to benefit “Johns Hopkins Colored Orphan Asylum“?
How did Douglass know Hopkins, as well as other Baltimore philanthropists from George Peabody to Enoch Pratt? Did Douglass and Professor Kelly Miller discuss his experiences at JHU?
We hope “these questions” also begin to be asked and researched.
It will take generations to reconcile the history in the wave of front stories, spins and propaganda.
“Frederick Douglass walking tour highlights the history of Baltimore,” (Johns Hopkins News-Letter, September 12, 2019)
Frederick Douglass walking tour highlights the history of Baltimore
John Muller, a local historian and author, organized and led a walking tour titled “The Lost History of Frederick (Bailey) Douglass in Baltimore, 1824-1895” on Friday. The tour departed from the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, and highlighted various locations in Fell’s Point that Douglass frequented during his time in Baltimore.
The tour’s emphasis on Baltimore’s history and Douglass’ relationship to the city helped attract students. Junior Bonnie Jin said that she participated in the tour because she was curious about the history of Baltimore.“I was really interested in Baltimore history, and I felt like I needed to learn more, especially about African American history, which is oftentimes overlooked,” she said. “It’s interesting to compare the history of Baltimore with the history of Boston, which is where I’m from, especially in regards to the abolition movement.”
The tour first stopped on Thames Street. Muller explained that Frederick Douglass first came to Baltimore when he was around eight or nine years old, enslaved to former Maryland Governor Hugh Auld.[*]
Muller began by describing Douglass as a child. He explained that Douglass was the playmate of Auld’s son, Thomas Auld, and as a result, spent a lot of time with a gang of Irish kids called the Fell’s Point Boys.
“Douglass is a very sophisticated person. He was the friend of the governor’s son, but he also could run the streets,” Muller said. “In the movie Glory, he’s portrayed as very stoic and stiff. Frederick Douglass was not stoic and stiff. He’s a very easygoing free-flowing person.”
Muller then pointed out 28 Thames St., where Nathaniel Knight, a bookseller, sold Douglass the first book he ever owned, a copy of The Columbian Orator.
At the time, Knight was a justice of the peace in Maryland, a role in the state judiciary.
Muller explained the risk that Douglass took when buying the book.
“Douglass buys [The Columbian Orator], which at that time, of course, is an illegal action,” he said. “This means that when Douglass is buying this book, the person he’s buying it from is trusted, confirmed by the senate of Annapolis, to enforce the various laws [of a justice of the peace].”
The tour then turned onto Bond Street. Muller shared another anecdote from Douglass’ life, explaining that in the 1830s, financial instability in Baltimore led to tensions between Irish and free black and enslaved workers. Muller said that Frederick Douglass was assaulted by a white dock worker, and Hugh Auld sought redress in court, going to see a lawyer on Bond Street. But the law at the time did not allow Frederick Douglass, an enslaved person, to speak in court, and did not allow anyone of African descent to bear witness.
Next, the group stopped on Dallas Street, formerly known as Strawberry Alley. When he was still enslaved to Hugh Auld, Frederick Douglass worshiped at a Methodist church on Strawberry Alley, Muller pointed out.
“When Methodism is formed as a religious denomination in America in 1784, one of the stipulations is that you cannot be a member in good standing in the Methodist church if you own slaves,” he said. “[Douglass] attended services here [on Dallas Street] at Strawberry Alley Methodist Church.”
In 1892, Douglass bought property on Strawberry Alley. He reopened the church, which had since closed, and built five homes. Muller noted that throughout his lifetime, Douglass invested in various other properties.
“He never attended a single day of formal school in his life, yet he had an in-depth, complex understanding of economics. He was an investor in real estate in Rochester, [Washington, D.C. and] Baltimore,” Muller said.
He elaborated on the benefit that Douglass’ purchase of the properties on Strawberry Alley had on the Baltimore community.
“When Douglass is building these homes, they are going to be open to all nationalities, with potentially a preference for blacksmiths, carpenters, educators from this community… Just like today, Baltimore has housing issues. Frederick Douglass didn’t just stand on the sidelines. He put his money where his mouth was and opened these properties,” Muller said. “Frederick Douglass gave back to his community.”
Vrshank Ravi, class of 2019, said that he was particularly interested in Muller’s stories about Douglass’ involvement in real estate.
Muller added that Frederick Douglass taught night school on Dallas Street, and explained that he was very involved in the Baltimore school system. “I was like, ‘how did that work back then?’ Especially because Baltimore and real estate, and the whole history of redlining and more modern problems,” he said. “I do a lot of work on urban economics and that really stood out to me.”
“In Baltimore, Frederick Douglass advocated one, that black children should be taught by black teachers, and two, that black teachers should receive equal pay,” he said.
Towards the end of the tour, Muller discussed Douglass’ political views.
“Frederick Douglass was very much a committed Republican, and it’s very important to understand the context of political patronage and how he used his connections within the system to help out African Americans, which, historians have not really told that story,” he said.
Muller clarified that Douglass was still an ardent abolitionist, who believed that political agitation was necessary to create change.
To illustrate his point, Muller told the story of Douglass once publicly refusing to shake hands with Baltimore Chief of Police and former Confederate Cavalry Officer Harry S. Gilmor.
“Frederick Douglass has that visceral vision, that prophesy. He understands that political agitation is the one way to make change,” he said. “He does not serve in the Civil War, but he essentially served in the abolitionist war.”
Like Jin, Ravi also appreciated the fact that Muller focused on aspects of Douglass’ life which are often overlooked by historians.
“There’s a lot of stories that aren’t told or are told wrong, and getting original research is really difficult,” he said. “It made me wish I took more history at Hopkins.”
Jin also said that she appreciated the situated context of the tour, since they walked around the locations of importance.
“We were walking along the same place that so many historical things were happening,” she said. “Him telling the story, added on with the fact that we were walking through, it made it really vivid for me.”
Lion of Anacostia Editor’s Note:
I left the article in tact, as it appears online, but there are one or two corrections.
* Such as, before arriving in Baltimore to the Hugh Auld household Frederick Bailey had been a playmate of Daniel Lloyd, the youngest son of former Governor and United States Senator Edward Lloyd V.
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 Orator. The 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.”