*This post is part of our online forum on the life of Frederick Douglass.
Paper presented by Leigh Fought, Professor of History at Le Moyne College and author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, at the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery Annual Meeting, Rochester, NY, 9 April 2019.
*This post is part of our online forum on the life of Frederick Douglass.
Black Perspectives, the award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), is hosting an online forum on Frederick Douglass on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth. Organized by Brandon R. Byrd (Vanderbilt University), the online forum uses the 200th anniversary of Douglass’s birth as an opportunity to highlight commemorative, critical reflections, and assessments of Douglass’s ideas and legacy. The forum will feature an interview with Kenneth B. Morris, the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass (and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington). It will also feature essays from Neil Roberts (Williams College); Manisha Sinha (University of Connecticut); David Blight (Yale University); Leigh Fought (Le Moyne College); Noelle Trent (National Civil Rights Museum); and Christopher Bonner (University of Maryland, College Park). The forum begins on Monday, November 26, 2018 and concludes on Friday, November 30, 2018.
During the week of the online forum, Black Perspectives will publish new blog posts every day at 5:30AM EST. Please follow Black Perspectives (@BlkPerspectives) and AAIHS (@AAIHS) on Twitter; like AAIHS on Facebook; or subscribe to our blog for updates. By subscribing to Black Perspectives, each new post will automatically be delivered to your inbox during the week of the forum.
Brandon R. Byrd is an Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and an intellectual historian of the 19th and 20th century United States with specializations in African American History and the African Diaspora. He has published articles in numerous outlets including Slavery & Abolition and The Journal of Haitian Studies and his first book, The Black Republic: African Americans, Haiti, and the Rise of Radical Black Internationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019). He is the co-editor of two forthcoming edited volumes: one on the Black intellectual tradition (Northwestern University Press) and a second entitled Haiti for the Haitians, an annotated translation of Haitian intellectual Louis Joseph Janvier’s life and work (Liverpool University Press). Along with co-editing the Black Lives and Liberation series published by Vanderbilt University Press, Byrd is also vice president of the African American Intellectual History Society. Follow him on Twitter @bronaldbyrd.
Kenneth B. Morris is an accomplished and prolific public speaker. He descends from two of the most influential names in American history: he is the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington. His mother, Nettie Washington Douglass, is the daughter of Nettie Hancock Washington (granddaughter of Booker T. Washington), and Dr. Frederick Douglass III (great-grandson of Frederick Douglass). Mr. Morris continues his family’s legacy of anti-slavery and educational work as co-founder and president of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI). FDFI brings the guidance of history to the fight against modern forms of slavery. As part of the present-day abolitionist movement, FDFI educates young people about all forms of forced servitude and inspires them to action. Current FDFI projects include PROTECT, a partnership with two California-based nonprofit organizations, 3Strands Global and Love Never Fails, to provide grade-level appropriate, state standard-compliant human trafficking prevention education to thousands of California schoolchildren from grade school to high school and the One Million Abolitionists project, which with a wide range of partners including the National Park Service, educational institutions, community organizations, and individuals will print and distribute one million copies of a special Bicentennial edition of Frederick Douglass’s first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, to young people across the country through the 2018 celebration of the bicentennial of Douglass’s birth. Follow him on Twitter @kmorrisjr.
Neil Roberts received his Ph.D. in Political Science from The University of Chicago with a specialization in political theory. Roberts is the recipient of fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation as well as a member of the Caribbean Philosophical Association Board of Directors. His present writings deal with the intersections of Caribbean, Continental, and North American political theory with respect to theorizing the concept of freedom. Roberts is co-editor of both the CAS Working Papers in Africana Studies Series (with Ben Vinson) and a collection of essays (with Jane Anna Gordon) on the theme Creolizing Rousseau (2015), and he is the recent guest editor of a Theory & Event symposium on the Trayvon Martin case. In addition to being on the Executive Editorial Board of Political Theory and former Chair of CPA Publishing Partnerships that includes The C.L.R. James Journaland books with Rowman and Littlefield International, he is author of the award-winning book Freedom as Marronage (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and the collaborative work Journeys in Caribbean Thought(2016). His most recent book is A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass (University Press of Kentucky, 2018). Roberts is President of the Caribbean Philosophical Association (2017-) and, as of July 1, 2018, the W. Ford Schumann Faculty Fellow in Democratic Studies. Follow him on Twitter @neildsroberts.
Manisha Sinha is professor and the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History. She was born in India and received her Ph.D from Columbia University where her dissertation was nominated for the Bancroft prize. She was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed on faculty and received the Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award in Recognition of Outstanding Graduate Teaching and Advising from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she taught for over twenty years. She is the author of the award-winning book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2017), which received serveral book prizes including, the 2017 Frederick Douglass Prize by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University; the 2017 Best Book Prize by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic; the 2016 Avery O. Craven Award given by the Organization of American Historians; and the 2017 James A. Rawley Award for the Best Book on Secession and the Sectional Crisis published in the last two years, Southern Historical Association. Her first book, The Counterrevolution of Slavery, was named one of the ten best books on slavery in Politico in 2015. In 2017, she was named one of Top Twenty Five Women in Higher Education by the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. She is a member of the Board of the Society of Civil War Historians and of the Council of Advisors of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg, New York Public Library, co-editor of the “Race and the Atlantic World, 1700-1900,” series of the University of Georgia Press, and is on the editorial board of the Journal of the Civil War Era and Slavery and Abolition. Follow her on Twitter @ProfMSinha.
David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University. His most recent book is Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom(Simon and Schuster, 2018). Blight is also the author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001), which received eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians. Other published works include a book of essays, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002); and Frederick Douglass’s Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (LSU Press, 1989). Blight is the editor of and author of introductions for six other books, including When This Cruel War Is Over: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harvey Brewster (Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1992); Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (Bedford Books, 1993); co-editor with Robert Gooding-Williams, W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Bedford Books, 1997); co-editor with Brooks Simpson, Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era (Kent State Univ. Press, 1997); and Caleb Bingham, The Columbian Orator (orig. 1797, NYU Press, 1997), the book of oratory and antislavery writings that Frederick Douglass discovered while a youth. The edited volume, Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, was published by Smithsonian Press in 2004 and is the companion book for the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Follow him on Twitter @davidwblight.
Leigh Fought is the author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass (Oxford University Press, 2017), a biography of the great African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass through the eyes of the women who made his life and career possible. Women in the World of Frederick Douglass won the 2018 Herbert Lehman Prize for Scholarship in New York History and the Society of Historians of the Early Republic’s 2018 Mary Kelly Prize. Fought is an associate professor of history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, and served as an associate editor on the first volume of Frederick Douglass’s correspondence at the Frederick Douglass Papers, published by Yale University Press in 2009. Her previous work includes Southern Womanhood and Slavery: A Biography of Louisa McCord (University of Missouri Press, 2003) and Mystic, Connecticut: From Pequot Village to Tourist Town (History Press, 2006).
Christopher Bonner specializes in African American history, particularly black protest in the early United States. He is at work on a manuscript titled “The Price of Citizenship,” which examines black activists’ efforts to construct American citizenship before the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. In their public protest statements, black people from across the antebellum free states worked to create a specific, inclusive citizen status, a central project in the long processes of creating American law and society. He is more broadly interested in the roots and results of radical politics, the nature and meanings of historical violence, and the creation of black freedom in a slaveholding republic. His teaching interests include African American politics and culture, slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic world, and race and ethnicity in early America. Originally from Chesapeake, VA, he earned his B.A. from Howard University and Ph.D. from Yale University. Follow him on Twitter @63cjb.
Noelle Trent is the Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. Trent earned her doctorate in American History at Howard University. Her dissertation, “Frederick Douglass and the Making of American Exceptionalism,” examines how the noted African-American abolitionist and activist influenced the development of the American ideas of liberty, equality and individualism, which later coalesced to form the ideology of American exceptionalism. Trent is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and has worked with several noted organizations and projects, including the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Park Service, Catherine B. Reynolds Civil War Washington Teacher Fellows, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History. She has presented papers and lectures at the American Historical Association, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Lincoln Forum and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Follow her on Twitter @NoelleTrentPhD.
As we proceed to uplift the fallen history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass and the legion of radical black women within his intricate network we continue to dismantle the dangerous “White Woman Lies” Prof. Leigh Fought has advanced unchallenged within the academy since the publication of her consequential book last year.
Numerous radical black women educators, such as Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson, trusted and looked to Dr. Douglass as a father figure since their early childhoods. In recognizing the true legacy we will not allow this sacred history to be distorted and ignored by alleged “experts.” Despite these leading scholars being largely devoid of original scholarship their lies are promoted and awarded.
Leigh Fought has knowingly or subconsciously dangerously minimized and lied on women who knew Dr. Douglass for nearly a half-century.
Coming up in our own time we ran with our own legion of radical black women. Now grown, more than a couple of these women have granted me permission to set the record straight once and forever.
On W Street in Old Anacostia there are radical white women who fire off emails to elected officials and city agencies, following the Douglassonian tradition of agitating the city for an improvement of services within the neighborhood.
On W Street in Old Anacostia there are more than a couple radical black women who keep their door open for generations of returning citizens who accumulatively have served centuries.
There is an unknown history of radical black women coming through W Street, formerly Jefferson Street, in Old Anacostia that Prof. Leigh Fought completely ignores in her book despite my efforts to forewarn her.
Since Le Moyne College Professor Leigh Fought found it in her to reach we will now teach.
Dr. Douglass is a Shakespearean figure in American history and in his own life and times Dr. Douglass was a Shakespearean. On at least two occasions Douglass participated in readings with the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, first introduced to the public record by scholar Phil Foner.
A fugitive slave-scholar Dr. Douglass could hold street corners with the same ease he could hold the public stage. A common lie within Douglassoniana Studies and a common public misconception is that Dr. Douglass became isolated as he aged and was reluctant to use his influence to uplift others.
Wrong. White Man Lies. White Woman Lies.
As America’s Pharaoh Dr. Douglass was known for his cultural discernment and promotion of the arts. As many of us do when struck by tragedy we turn to the arts.
In April 1883, less than a year after the passing of Anna Douglass and less than a year before his marriage to Helen Pitts, Dr. Douglass held a small gathering at Cedar Hill for a young actress on the eve of her grand introduction to Washington society.
As a radical agitator Dr. Douglass influenced legion of radical black women. These women, such as Henrietta Vinton Davis, used the teachings of Dr. Douglass to continue their radical agitation for many generations henceforth. For example, Davis is well known to many Garveyites as a close confidant of Marcus Garvey.
For genteel white women such as Leigh Fought the associations Dr. Douglass had with radical black women, other than the default Ida B. Wells, may be difficult to understand. We understand but others may not be as kind.
Without further delay we provide a small newspaper item which shows Dr. Douglass to be an early radical promoter of the nascent Black arts movement.
Reception to Miss Henrietta Vinton Davis
Hon. Frederick Douglass invited a few friends last evening to his residence in Uniontown to meet Henrietta Vinton Davis, the young colored lady who is to make her debut in dramatic recitals on Wednesday evening, 25th instant, at Marini’s Hall.
Miss Davis recited very effectively scenes from “Romeo and Juliet,” “As You Like It,” “Brier Rose” (a poem of great dramatic power by Bjornson), “Awfully Lovely Philosophy” and “Dancing at the Flat Creek Quarters.” Mr. Douglass, than whom there is no better judge, made a speech of congratulation, and predicted a successful future for Miss Davis.
Miss Marquerite E. Saxton, the preceptress of Miss Davis, upon a request from Mr. Douglass, gave a scene from “Macbeth,” and recited “Drifting.” Miss Saxton is so well and favorably known that the appearance of her pupil will be one of the events of the season.
Evening Critic, 24 April 1883
* Special acknowledgement to Davon Wright aka Aquafina Boo-Boo, our dear friend and radical black actress known throughout Washington City theatre communities.
As I walk in, out, around and through neighborhoods, communities and thoroughfares of Southeast Washington, knowingly or not, I re-trace routes Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass trode walking his community as he built community.
Known throughout the four corners of the earth, Dr. Douglass was known and respected on the muddy street corners of old Barry Farm. The Douglass boys, specifically Charles and Frederick, Jr., commanded equal and independent respect as local community activists. Nothing changes but the weather; gun play exists today on the K, gun play existed on the streets and in backyards of old Barry Farm lots off Nichols Avenue.
Within the freedman community of Barry Farm the Douglass family invested themselves to uplift fallen humanity and assist families and their young children, many being the first born free, in education liberation.
Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson was welcome in the home of not only Frederick Douglass but Frederick Douglass, Jr. who lived on Nichols Avenue, today Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, until his death, before his time, in 1892.
Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson was a playmate with the grandchildren of Dr. Douglass.
Radical black women scholars and educators who ran with Dr. Douglass are legion.
We will no longer let historians whitewash this history. We will no longer allow historians tell “White Man Lies” on Dr. Douglass and the young women of African descent he looked out for, mentored and counseled.
I must admit I am complicit in allowing the lies of history, or rather an incomplete history, to be advanced. I played nice for years. I continue to play nice as that is my natural disposition, but I was granted permission by W Street Douglassonians to ratchet up the radical and guerrilla tactics in uplifting fallen humanity through history.
If Prof. Leigh Fought had stayed in her lane I may not have had impetus and mandate to come through the country roads and seek counsel of descendants of neighbors of Larkin Johnson and Emily Edmonson Johnson.
I was told to not forget the country roads from whence we come, the country roads of Zion, Brookeville, Gregg, Sundown, Goldmine, Brooke, Howard Chapel and Sunshine Burger.
We, guardians of the ground that raised us up, will not knowingly allow Ivory Tower academics to disgrace the community history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass for one second longer.
LeMoyne College professor Leigh Fought, author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, has recently decided to insert herself into my ongoing refutation of the speculative “scholarship” of disgraceful David Blight.
Until Prof. Fought decided to reach I have quietly kept reoccurring critiques I’ve heard of her award-winning book to myself.
Politics of respectability need no longer apply 1) after Fought posted a message on her blog about me without so much as letting me know and 2) deleted my initial comments apologizing for involving her, although she initially provided her full consent, with ongoing research projects into records pertaining to Anna Douglass and other family members that have remained elusive and unpublished.
Dr. Fought was asked and enlisted in these research pursuits because of her professionalism but she has shown herself to prioritize pettiness over the pursuit of scholarship. Prof. Fought’s actions are not only disgraceful to the journalistic legacy of Dr. Douglass but to the journalism of Helen Pitts Douglass.
Taught about history on the county roads & back of the late night 70 bus
While a student at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland I frequently called out not only the errors and textbook omissions in our world history and US history classes but other classmates. I was known to get passionate and sometimes would more than call out a fellow student or two. (I did the same in college.)
My high school teachers were of little to no help calming me down, with the exception of Vietnam combat veteran and AP US History teacher Robert J. Washek. Often my classmates would intervene to calm me down so as to prevent me from crossing the line. On more than one occasion a young African-American woman, or women, grabbed me by the arm and took me into the hallway to either provide counsel or a moment of prayer to calm me down.
That is how I came up.
I thank E. Bacon, C. Williams, K. Dawkins, M. Sawyer, A. Philpot, T. Stewart, K. Jones, the late E. Cray and many others who I can’t recall without the aid of a yearbook.
I recently spoke to an old high school classmate and told her about the intellectual delicateness and fragile egos of fellow Douglass scholars, including the genteel Leigh Fought. I will trust counsel of someone I’ve known for twenty years over the “gas lighting” efforts of an insincere scholar who was initially helpful and supportive of my efforts, including donating money to a community conference and mural installation at 16th & W Street SE.
According to a dear friend I’ve known since I was 12, “Give them the same grief you gave our teachers. That’s their job to deal with it and recognize the validity. If not, I know how you go. We all know how you go. I don’t think they understand where you’re coming from, where we are all from. Let them know. We taught you, so you better teach them. I pray for them. They don’t know who they are playing with.”
My friend, who read Prof. Fought’s book, suggested I begin a series on the blog, Black Women in the World of Frederick Douglass.
While Prof. Fought went nobly further than any previous biographers in treating the Douglass family — specifically Anna, Rosetta and other women within the intimate cipher of Dr. Douglass — with respect and scholarship there are massive errors, omissions and more than a couple misinterpretations in her work.
Troubling statements and omissions in [White] Women in the World of Frederick Douglass
As Prof. Fought has says, Dr. Douglass ran with a “legion” of women from various reformist movements yet [White] Women in the World of Frederick Douglass is largely a minimization and whitewashing of the associations Dr. Douglass had with women of African descent.
For example, Emily Edmonson, a student at Oberlin College, teacher at the Miner School and a confidant of Dr. Douglass, for nearly a half-century, while a resident of both Sandy Spring, Maryland and Hillsdale, Washington, D.C. in the modern-day Barry Farm community of Southeast is mentioned one single time in the body text of Fought’s manuscript.
On page 140 Edmonson, who also warrants a caption and source note, is described simply as a “former slave.”
“Furor over Frederick and Julia subsided for a time in 1854. In February and March, Julia joined Gerrit Smith, now a congressman, in Washington, DC, reporting her observations of the nation’s capital for Frederick Douglass; Paper. In June, she traveled to Canada West, bringing aid to former slave Emily Edmonson for black expatriates suffering from famine.
This is troubling.
I attempted to forewarn Prof. Fought. She alludes to my warning in her acknowledgements:
John Muller, who knows more about Douglass in DC and the neighborhood around Cedar Hill than I thought possible, who pointed me toward the black women whom Douglass worked with there, and who is a meticulous researcher.
That said, I am a street reporter and a street historian. I came up in the community and the community is where I remain.
Scholars, such as Prof. Fought, who cannot debate and have a conversation are not scholars; they are dangerous propagandists of their own distortions, misinterpretations and lies.