Posts Tagged letters
Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass & Higher Education: University of Rochester Edition, Pt. 4 [Letter, June 1879, from Frederick Douglass thanking citizens and friends of Rochester, President of University of Rochester for installing marble bust in Sibley Hall]
When the University of Rochester unveiled the long anticipated marble bust of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass by local artist Johnson Mundy on its campus in June 1879 the man being celebrated was not in attendance.
To recognize the University of Rochester, President Anderson and his friends and associates in Rochester who had commissioned the work and organized the effort Douglass sent a timely letter to confidant Samuel Porter.
The below article and letter from Dr. Douglass was contemporaneously published by the Democrat and Chronicle and re-printed by fellow Rochester newspapers.
Additionally, Douglass thought the statue consequential and important enough to mention in Life and Times.
It will be remembered that a bust of Frederick Douglass was recently placed in Sibley Hall, of the University of Rochester. The ceremonies were quite informal – too informal, we think, as commemorating a deserved tribute from the people of Rochester to one who will always ranks as among her most distinguished citizen. Mr. Douglass himself was not notified officially of the event and therefore could in no public manner take notice of it. He was, however, informed privately of it, and responded most happily, as will be seen by the following letter which we are permitted to publish: –
Washington, D.C., June 25, 1879
My dear Sir, – I am extremely obliged to you for your kind and timely letter which came this morning, for it was a relief from a real cause of embarrassment.
When I first read of the formal unveiling and the presentation of my bust to the city of Rochester, the speeches made on the occasion by imminent gentlemen, – notably the remarks of Dr. Anderson, the honored President of Rochester University, an institution which has done so much to make the name of the city illustrious, – I felt an almost irrepressible impulse to do or say something out of the common way to some one of my old friends and fellow-citizens, which should express however crudely, something of the grateful sentiment stirred in my breast by this distinguished honor.
But as no one of the respected gentlemen active in the procurement of the testimonial said anything to me about it, and treated me as if I were out of the world, as all men should be when they are once reduced to marble, I began at last to think that silence on my part was perhaps the best way to the properties of the occasion.
Now, however, I am relieved. You have made it easy for me to speak to express my earnest acknowledgements to the committee of the gentlemen having this matter in charge and who have conducted it to completion.
Incidents of this character in my life do much amaze me. It is not, however, the height to which I have risen, but the depth from which I have come, that most amazes me.
It seems only a little while ago, when a child, I might have been fighting with old “Nep,” my mother’s dog, for a small share of the few crumbs that fell from the kitchen table; when I slept on the hearth, covering my feet from the cold with warm ashes and my head with a corn bag; only a little while ago, dragged to prison to be sold to the highest bidder, exposed for sale like a beast of burden; later on, put out to live with Covey, the negro breaker; beaten and almost broken in spirit, having little hope either for myself or my race; yet here I am alive and active, and with my race, enjoying citizenship in the freest and prospectively the most powerful nation on the globe.
In addition to this, you and your friends, while I am yet alive have thought it worth while to preserve my features in marble and to place them in your most honored institution of learning, to be viewed by present and future generations of men.
I know not, my friend, how to thank you, for this distinguished honor.
My attachment to Rochester, my home for more than a quarter of a century, will endure with my life.
Very gratefully and truly yours,
“FREDERICK DOUGLASS,” June 28, 1879, Democrat and Chronicle, p. 2
Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass & Higher Education: University of Rochester Edition, Pt. 2 [Frederick Douglass to Rev. M.B. Anderson, D.D, President of University of Rochester, discussing potential lecture at Bucknell University, Nov. 23, 1868, Rochester, NY]
Dr. Frederick Douglass did not run with a monolith of radicals.
He ran with them all, my fellow Douglassonians, from radical booksellers in Fells Point to radical abolitionists on the anti-slavery lecture circuit to radical Republicans, such as Congressman Robert Smalls, representing the first generation of national black legislators.
Dr. Douglass ran with radical clergy, radical journalists, radical suffragists, radical black nationalists, radical labor organizers, an international circle of radical educators to name just a handful of the thoroughgoing cyphers of militant thought and action the fugitive slave-scholar stepped through to.
Never having attended a day of school in his life, Dr. Douglass self-directed his education under the shade tree in the country and in muddy back-alley streets.
I question the sincerity and genuineness of institutions of higher learning seeking to confer awards on Dr. Douglass without an accurate accounting of his lifelong relationship with radical educators and the university for a half-century.
I kindly advise University of Rochester NOT follow the same tone-deaf path Washington College took honoring Dr. Douglass and failing to address his longstanding relationship with higher education.
This is a polite word that for W Street Douglassonians it matters not Yale, Harvard, Maryland State Archives, Maryland Historical Society, Washington College or University of Rochester.
The era of playtime honorifics for Dr. Douglass is over. Speak on Douglass and Higher Education. Let it be known. Once. And. For. All. Times.
Rochester, Nov. 23, 1868.
My dear sir:
I am just home from Boston and am obliged by your note of the 18th. I will write to Pres. Loomis to day and give him a date when I can deliver a lecture in Lewisburg.
I receive many invitations, some from responsible [indecipherable] and others not – and I feel more secure from imposition when I have assurances as you gave me of your friend Dr. Loomis.
Truly yours with gr [sic] respect
Rev. M. B. Anderson, D.D.
Pres. Rochester University
and orator & editor.
*Archivist / Librarian notation.
Original letter here.
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.