Posts Tagged journalists
Colored Press Convention meets at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church w/ Frederick Douglass, William Calvin Chase, Ferdinand Barnett, T. Thomas Fortune, Richard T. Greener and others attend
If we are to celebrate Frederick Douglass’ Bicentennial I advance that we recognize the full measure of his life. Yes, he’s is known as a runaway slave who rose to advise more than a half-dozen United States Presidents but let us not be so limited in our understanding of Douglass. Lest us not forgot the lesser-known Douglass, such as editor Douglass.
Ranger Nate Johnson at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site knows and has presented on Douglass as a journalist and an editor.
In our ongoing research on Douglass, we are continuously interested in his unsung and largely unknown role as Editor Emeritus of the Colored Press (today known as the Black Press).
One small item we found in a June 1882 edition of the National Republican lists Douglass in attendance of the second day of proceedings for the Colored Press Convention at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, near 15th and R Streets NW. This was Rev. Grimke’s home church.
Other journalists attending were T. Thomas Fortune, Benjamin T. Tanner (founder of the Christian Recorder), Ferdinand L. Barnett, William C. Chase of the Washington Bee, W. A. Pledger of Atlanta and Richard T. Greener, a past editor and contributor to the New National Era.
Occasionally original Douglass documents turn up on Ebay and other online auction sites. This letter is for sale for $8,995.00.
Here’s the description:
Autograph Letter Signed (ALS), “Fredk. Douglass,” one page on Cedar Hill letterhead, 5” x 8”, July 20, 1888. Letter to Magnus L. Robinson, an African-American journalist and newspaper editor.
In full: “I am very sorry that I cannot serve you. I have already taken an interest in the People’s Advocate and promised to press its claims upon the National Republican Committee otherwise I would be glad to serve the National Republican Leader.” In Fine condition, with uniform toning. Accompanied by a full letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA.
A month prior to writing this letter, Douglass attended the Republican National Convention to speak out in support of John Sherman for the presidency. With his primary focus on a strong civil rights platform, he did ultimately campaign for nominee Benjamin Harrison, after the latter supported an item calling for federal protection of black citizens’ voting rights. Interestingly, Douglass himself received a single vote for the presidential nomination while at the Convention—the first African-American to earn the distinction. Also of note are the two prominent African-American newspapers that Douglas mentions in this letter: Robinson’s The National Leader and John W. Cromwell’s The People’s Advocate. Having just been founded in January, Robinson’s paper was still getting off the ground, certainly his reason for reaching out to Douglass for support. A fantastic letter referring to the 1888 Republican National Convention, with significant content regarding the civil rights movement and the voice of the African-American community.
Douglass receives letter from C H J Taylor; “God made us men before either of us joined a political party,”
My Good friend:
When can I have an interview with you, and where? Africa must not be lost and you can save that Continent. “God made us men before either of us joined a political party.”
In strict confidence I am your sincere friend,
Immediately drop what you are doing and stop with the “No struggle, no progress,” cliched sloganeering of Frederick Douglass. Study Douglass. Research Douglass. Know who he ran with and knocked heads with. Stop disgracing his lived legacy by reducing his more than half-century worth of grinding to a singular expression much like Dr. King and “I have a Dream…”
Get up on game. Know the public and private battles of “Old Man Eloquent” and William Calvin Chase.
If I hear one more random person say, “As Frederick Douglass said, ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress.'” I am going to get on my William Calvin Chase and downright act a dignified and intellectual fool up in the place.
Frederick Douglass Papers, Manuscripts: 1888, Jan. – Feb., Image 5
Frederick Douglass as profiled by Jane Marsh Parker [Salt Lake Evening Democrat, April 23, 1887, p. 4.]
“A marked characteristic of Frederick Douglass is his love for music. When but a little fellow he would go up to “the great house” to hear the violin play for the dancers. The fiddler, he says, did not play common airs, but the best music, and while he listened the little yellow boy under the window forgot everything else. Love of music drew him to the Methodist meetings, for the singing was music to him, and he joined in with a will. It was at these meetings he began to speak in public, and discovered how well he could talk and the pleasure in being praised for the same. When a Sunday school exhibition by the free negroes was in prospect he found a chance for exercising his budding oratory. He bought a “speaker” with the “tips” his master had given him for blacking boots, and selected a piece with a plenty of big words – a college oration was wherein expounded what man can by imagination. The words were Greek to him, but he particularly liked rolling out: “He can soar aloft where stars glitter on the mantle of light and a more effulgent sun lights up the blushes or morning.”
Talking with Frederick Douglass one is sometimes inclined to think that, interesting as his autobiography is, it does not contain many of the most interesting experiences of his life, those he once thought, perhaps, insignificant to the public. On his wife’s piano at Cedar Hill you may see the very same music book that he slipped into his bundle when he skipped out of Maryland. It is worth something to see him standing with his violin singing with Mrs. Douglass those old “Seraph” hymns. If you had breakfast with him on a Sunday morning he will pass you with his own hand the Maryland biscuit, and is it not worth knowing that are just like the biscuits “Miss Lucretia” used to give him when half starved he sang under her dining room window? “I used to wish I could have my fill of them, and now I mean to have, you see?”
There was living in Washington a year of so ago an old colored man, who was a fellow slave with “Fred,” as he still calls him. His wife was the daughter of the old fiddler of “the great house.” Hearing them talk together – the recorder of the District of Columbia, and the tender of a furnace in the Capitol – laughing merrily over reminiscences of the plantation, was a unique experience.
“No, I don’t remember anything special that Fred used to do in them days,” said the old man in reply to probing inquiry, “only he jes wouldn’t be put upon and wanted to boss everything.”
Full story available HERE:
Salt Lake Evening Democrat, April 23, 1887, p. 4.
* This story was re-printed in papers throughout the country. *
Jane Marsh Parker was friends with the Douglasses for decades and contributed articles to leading magazines of the late 19th century and early 20th century. She wrote novels as well as histories, including an 1884 book about the history of Rochester, New York which features Frederick Douglass.
“The Picture Presentation at Howard University” attended by President Hayes and Marshal Frederick Douglass [NY Times, February 1878]
History has been rather unsympathetic to Rutherford B. Hayes. I get it and understand. But in research I’ve found, in President Hayes, a man emerging that is more layered, complex, and empathetic than history has portrayed. I am not a credentialed historian, but I have approached this effort as a historian as detective gathering evidence, as any journalist would do. Some of the information I’ve found on President Hayes shines new, and in some ways, contradictory light on our 19th President.
The below New York Times article, written by Sara Jane Lippincott under the nom de plume “Grace Greenwood,” describes an evening at Howard University where emotions were thick in the air. [ED Note: This 1,500 word excerpt is part of Greenwood’s larger “Views on Passing Events” column. The night was covered a week before by the New York Times with a much smaller article.]
The remarks of President Hayes and Marshal Douglass are quoted in places, but more directly paraphrased. Even so, the remarks of Marshal Douglass are stirring.
On Thursday last I accompanied a party of friends to Howard University, where we had some very interesting exercises. The ostensible occasion was the presentation to the college of a fine large engraving of Carpenter’s picture, but really it was a sort of memorial service for Abraham Lincoln – occurring as it did, a day or two after his birthday. The President and his amiable wife were present, with Marshal Douglass, Col. T. W. Higginson, the munificent Mrs. Thompson, that lady bountiful and beautiful and a few lesser lights of politics, literature, and patriotism. The speech of Frederick Douglass did not unbeseem his old reputation for eloquence, wit, and honest good sense. His talk to the students was paternal in spirit, and on the whole, cheery in tone, though unsparing in admonition and rebuke. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” and he did lay on right lustily. It was a plain talk, with all harshness and bitterness taken out of it by the genial humor so peculiar to that orator – and by the tact which caused him to use the pronoun “we” instead of “you.”
Col. Higginson told some wonderful stories of his war experiences in the South – of the solemn rejoicing of the negroes over the emancipation proclamation, which came to them like a new gospel, let down from the New Jerusalem. The freedmen of Georgia at that time would scarcely have echoed the doubts, the “buts,” and the “ifs” of Mr. Stephens as to the wisdom and beneficence of the act which metamorphosed them from chattels into men, and if hard after-experience has caused those poor, dispersed plantation laborers, those disbanded black volunteers to grow disheartened with their “free, unhoused condition,” and feel to hanker after the flesh-pots of Egypt, if they find that to “call no man master” is, after all, a costly luxury, that to sow ballots is to reap bullets, and that “the wages of politics is death,” up here the race is as strong in faith, if not in position, and as much enamored for freedom, if not of Republicanism, as ever. They still believe liberty is a good thing – they still sing, “We are rising,” and believe it, though the yeast of the Freedmen’s Bureau has given out. When I looked around on the African portion of the audience – representatives of every shade of that unfortunate people who have seemed to us born during an eclipse of Divine favor – when I noticed them, the students especially, listening eagerly and seriously to words both of sympathy and reproof – the darkest face touched with the mysterious light of thought and aspiration, and set with a brave resolve to struggle against the love of idleness and pleasure – the real “curse of Ham” – I felt that all the honest questioning in the mind of Mr. Stephens as to the wisdom and righteousness of Mr. Lincoln’s act, was abundantly answered.
If that act was a military necessity, considered in the councils of the President it was also a need of humanity, settled and decreed n the counsels of the Almighty. If the justice was compulsory, it was Divine coercion. The noble eloquence – the very appearance of an ex-slave on the same platform with the President of the United States, was a sufficient answer to the doubts of the ex-Confederate. I remember when Marshal Douglass was a young fugitive, in deadly fear of Marshals – when if he dared to show his face in Washington, or even in New-York or Boston, he was liable to be arrested and taken back to Maryland, “With gyves upon his wrists,”
I remember when hapless, and perhaps overzealous, philanthropists were imprisoned in the horrible old jail in Judiciary-square for helping such “discontented, demoralized darkies” as he out of bondage. I remember when between the Capitol and Georgetown was a slave prison; I remember how once a young slave girl escaped from that prison and took to the long bridge, hoping, perhaps, to hide herself in the woods about Arlington, but, being chased and headed off, leaped from the bridge into the Potomac and found there presently Patrick Henry’s alternative for “liberty.” About the bravest thing which our President has done since appointing Mr. Douglass Marshal of the District, and standing by his man, and one of the best things he has ever done, was to make this visit to the “Black University,” just at the time when it was being assailed. The present head of the institution, Dr. Patton, a man of rare intellect and culture and noble character, deserved this mark of respect and confidence – as I believe do all colored Professors. The words the President addressed to the students were wise, timely, and generous. As I could not wholly accept the assertion of Mr. Stephens that “among the whole Southern people there is not one who would change the state of things, resubjugate the colored man, and put him in the same state he was in before the war,” I cannot believe with President Hayes that “no one will deny the wisdom, the righteousness, and the grandeur of Abraham Lincoln’s act of emancipation,” but I honor the man for saying so, if he believed so, and for saying it so strongly. Mr. Garrison, the rugged Luther of these latter days could not have more stoutly championed the act for which we are all made to feel that the august shade of Lincoln is on trial to-day.
If the President by this visit gave happiness and encouragement to hearts not overfilled as the best with the wine of gladness, the presence of the President’s wife was received as an absolute benediction, her face as a soft light in a shadowy place. It is a most womanly and gracious presence – radiating gentleness and courtesy – a face whose character is best expressed by the word “lovely.” It was touching to note how, as Mr. Douglass pictured with master-strokes sad scenes before the war, and Col. Higginson, pathetic scenes during the war, her large dark eyes, “Sweetest eyes were ever seen,” mirrored every phase of feeling and often filled with sympathetic tears. The President’s wife may be a little quant and old-fashioned, but she is good – (perhaps, simple goodness is about as quant and old-fashioned a thing as we can see nowadays) – and when a woman has all the cardinal virtues, the coiffure is of little account – when she was the “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” her “price is above rubies,” and diamonds are at a discount.
The University people received most gratefully the gift of Mr. Carpenter, looking with tender, not fault-finding, eyes, on the sad face of their great deliverer, and on the faces of his great associates. Since the original painting has hung in its place in the Capitol, I have been to see it, and trying to forget what all others have said, have made up my own humble estimate. I think it has merits of which the common people are perhaps the best judges. It has an air of rigid and homely fidelity, in its inception and execution, and in the portraits of that remarkable group, in all details of the picture. The fact that it was painted under the eye of Lincoln and his counselors, that the real costumes however commonplace, the customary attitudes, however ungraceful, of the men, all the actual accessories of the scene, were faithfully copied and preserved, certainly gives to it an exceptional value. The portraits are unquestionable likeness – that of Lincoln as his saddest, wannest, and weariest perhaps, but good, very good, as Lincoln portraits go; that of Seward is better; that of Stanton best. I do not like the color of some of the faces, and for that reason prefer the engraving to the painting. Mr. Carpenter was an absolute devout of Abraham Lincoln, and painted this picture in a most loving and loyal sprit. I think all that can be seen in his work, and, perhaps, it is not the worst atmosphere a picture of the kind can have. I have noticed that the painting has been much more severely criticized now that it has come to us as a gift than it was some four years ago when it was exhibited here and we understood that Government was negotiating for its purchase. I may be wrong, but I attribute much of this ungracious and harsh criticism to the change of feeling toward our sometimes foes, and a greater change of feeling toward our sometimes allies – toward both people conquered and the people emancipated by the means of that important aggressive document in the hand of that central figure of that picture – a light weapon, lightly held, but of 40-thunderbolt power.
Frederick Douglass is the most conspicuous American of African descent, and his career is a striking illustration of the nature of free popular institutions. Born a slave, he is to-day, by his own energy and character and courage, an eminent citizen, and his life has been a constant and powerful plea for his people. Over infinite disadvantage and prejudice, his patience, intelligence, capacity, and tenacity have triumphantly prevailed, and in himself he is a repudiation of the current assertions against the colored race. Mr. Douglass’s address at the late Colored Convention showed a comprehension of the situation of the colored people in this country which justified the regard in which he is held, and which explains the leadership that he has held so long.
Its tone toward his people is not that of flattery and sentimentality, but of rebuke and exhortation; and he understands, if no other colored man perceives, the immense and crushing power of that prejudice which overwhelms a race whose color is an ineffaceable sign and suggestion of prolonged servile bondage.
The story of Mr. Douglass’s early life has been told by himself with a simplicity and power which make his autobiography one of the most striking and unique books in our literature. There is no closer and more intimate view of slavery as it was fifty years ago, and it is impossible to read it to-day as a tale of recent American life without incredulity. No man who directly or indirectly, by sophistry, or evasion, or resolute refusal to know the truth, sustained the system of slavery, can read the narrative of Frederick Douglass without sorrow and remorse. Three books contain the most complete and vivid picture of American slavery in its details, in its spirit, and in its influence upon master and slave, and upon industry and society. These are Douglass’s narrative, Olmstead’s Sea-board Slave States, and Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Careful study of these reveals the nature of the malign power with which good men at the South as elsewhere were called to contend.
Frederick Douglass was born in Talbot County, Maryland, sixty-five or sixty-six years ago. Like all slaves, he was not permitted to know his age, but he supposes, from the conversations of his master which he overheard, that he was about seventeen years old in 1835. His master was probably his father, and he was at different times a field hand and hired out to mechanical work in town. He was partially taught to read by a kind mistress, whose husband “stopped the nonsense” as soon as he knew it, and he taught himself by stealth to write. He was undoubtedly a very clever boy, and it was perhaps an instinctive apprehension that his cleverness might make his fellow-slaves troublesome which caused him to be frightfully flogged and abused in the hope of breaking his spirit. Fortunately the savage treatment stimulated rather than subdued his manhood, and when living near Baltimore in 1835 he organized a party of his comrades to attempt to escape. The scheme was betrayed, and he expected to be sent to Alabama; but this doom was averted, and, waiting patiently a little while, on the 3d of September, 1838, he quietly left Baltimore by a railroad train, and soon after reached New York, at two o’clock in the morning.
He was working in a ship-yard at the time, and observing a sympathy for his race among the sailors, he thought that he could disguise himself as a sailor and so escape. He had caught the air and the vocabulary of sailors, and carefully dressing himself and carrying a “protection,” which he does not say how he procured, and knowing that if he offered to buy a ticket he would be exposed to a searching examination, he jumped on the train after it was in motion. The disguise was so good that men who knew him did not recognize him. The conductor, passing through the cars, asked for his free papers, and Douglass, with a sailor’s air, showed his protection, and said that he did not carry his papers to sea, from which he had just returned. So the slave became a freeman, and the most powerful witness against the woes of the house of bondage found his tongue.
In 1841, at an antislavery convention at Nantucket, Mr. Garrison first saw Mr. Douglass, who had vaguely heard of the abolitionists, and was curious to know what they proposed to do. He was persuaded to address the convention, and after apologizing for his ignorance, the slave of three years before spoke with such force and eloquence that Mr. Garrison said that he had never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment. From that time Mr. Douglass was one of the most popular and powerful of the antislavery orators, and his life was devoted to arousing public sentiment, that the liberty which he had gained for himself might be secured for his fellow victims of slavery. He shared the fate of all the antislavery pioneers. He was denounced, mobbed, and pursued, and the very fact that he was a living example of the abuses of his race seemed to give peculiar malignity to the hatred with which he was regarded. If such men were slaves, how unspeakable was the wrong of slavery to humanity! Isaiah Rynders, who says in a recent statement that he “got mad with Garrison because he was an infidel,” replied to a speaker in one of the antislavery meetings who cited Douglass as evidence of the equality of the races, “That won’t do; he is half white, and that accounts for him.”“Oh,” retorted Douglass, “then I am only your half-brother,” which, Captain Rynders adds, was “as good a shot as ever I got in my life.”
In later years Mr. Douglass has been an editor, a popular lyceum lecturer, and a devoted Republican orator. He was a Republican Presidential Elector in New York, and he has been Marshal of the District of Columbia. His address, of which we have spoken, at the late Colored Convention, was the wisest word that has been spoken for his race for many a year. He is still a Republican, but he exhorts his brethren to subordinate party attachment to their own welfare. Mr. Douglass is one of the most interesting figures in the country, and no American career has had more remarkable and suggestive vicissitudes than his.
George William Curtis.