Posts Tagged man of letters

Congratulations Letter from Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass to new Howard University President, Rev. Jeremiah Rankin [December 7, 1889]

Port Au Prince, Dec. 7, 1889.

MY DEAR DR. RANKIN: – I congratulate you on your election to the President of Howard University; but have far greater reason to congratulate the University.

You have taken upon you a great labor of love and have made a great sacrifice. It is like you. You could have easily found many positions, with less exacting, and in many respects, more agreeable conditions. Your talents, I might say your character and genius, would open doors on golden hinges before you, but you have chosen a place, though high, yet among the lowly. May heaven bless you, in, and for the choice you have made. Your heart, how should I not know it? is with my poor, persecuted and struggling people, and no man in my range of acquaintances has larger of more helpful powers.

You cannot only teach the letter, but the spirit of Christianity, so much needed in the Capital of our great Republic. I have never become reconciled to your absence from Washington. You had a fixed position among the moral and religious forces of the city, and were a terror to evil-doers. Your trumpet gave no uncertain sound. It was never your misfortune to be misunderstood. Your language was never made to conceal your thought. You said what you meant, and meant what you said. Trimmers took no stock in you. Hence, the true friends of Temperance and of Freedom deeply regretted the day that saw you depart, and are glad that you have returned.

I am glad that there was courage enough in the Trustee Board to call you. I have had some thought of resigning, because of absence from the country, but I am reluctant to do so, especially since you are President of the University.

I should like to continue with the institution to the end.


“Editorial Notes.” ‘President Rankin’s Work …’

Our Day, November – December, 1894. No. 78, p. 583.

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Letter: Frederick Douglass to Charles Devens [May 23, 1881]

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Officer of the Recorder of Deeds,

District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., May 23d, 1881.

Hon. Charles Devens:

My dear Sir:

I thank you very sincerely for your kind and valued letter of congratulations after my confirmation as Register of Deeds and especially for the good word you were pleased to speak for me to the President of the United States. That word would no doubt have earned my retention in the office of U.S. Marshal, but for the President’s preference for a personal friend. My present office is even better suited to my tastes than the Marshalship and is sufficiently [illegible.] Allow me to express my pleasure that Massachusetts continues to honor you with [illegible] responsible position. I shall look back with satisfaction to the four years I served under you as Marshal and you were Attorney General of the United States.

Very truly yours,

Frederick Douglass


Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress; 1881, Jan. – Jun. (Series: General Correspondence): Image 39 of 61


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We salute the 165th birthday of “The North Star,” edited by Frederick Douglass

The North Star _ front _ June 2, 1848Frederick Douglass is the father of the black press. In 1847, one-hundred and sixty-five years ago today, The North Star was first published.

From Daniel Wallace Culp’s 1902 Twentieth Century Negro Literature: Or, A Cyclopedia of Thought on the Vital Topics Relating to the American Negro:

“This demand for a Negro journal was first met between 1827 and 1834 by unpretentious sheets in and about New York City. But it was not until 1847 that race journalism became a positive factor, when that intrepid spirit, Frederick Douglass, launched “The North Star.” This great man built up a circulation upon two continents and wielded an influence not exceeded by any subsequent race venture. That paper blazed a wide path, and in its path followed enterprise after enterprise, developing the sentiment for liberty and keeping in touch with the newer requirements of the hour.”

Douglass’ own thoughts on the black press captured in Irvine Garland Penn’s 1891 The Afro-American Press and Its Editors:

“I think the course to be pursued by the colored Press is to say less about race and claims to race recognition and more about the principles of justice, liberty, and patriotism. It should say more of what we ought to do for ourselves, and less about what the Government ought to do for us; more in the interest of morality and economy and less in the interest of office-getting; more in commending the faithful and inflexible men who stand up for our rights, and less for the celebration of balls, parties, and brilliant entertainments; more in respect to the duty of the Government to protect and defend the colored man’s rights in the South, and less in puffing individual men for office; less of arrogant assumption for the colored man, and more of appreciation of his disadvantages, in comparison with those of other varieties of men who opportunities have been broader and better than his.”

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Frederick Douglass: “What I Would Do If I Were President”

Library of Congress

More than a century before Barack Obama was elected the first black President of the United States of America, the most prominent black man of the 19th century jotted down his thoughts on the matter, “What I Would Do If I Were President.”

It seems a little absurd for one in my position to be asked, or to answer the question as to what I would do or not do if I were President of the United States, since no such contingency has even one chance in sixty-million to be realized. But if that chance should happen, it would probably be my experience and my misfortune to make as many blunders and give just cause for as much criticism as any one, who has ever occupied the Presidential chair. One thing how-ever I would do or try to do. I would employ every means supplied to the President by the constitution of the United States, to secure to every citizen of the United States, without regards to race, color, sex or religion, equal protection of the law. No citizen, however poor or despised, should be able to say at the close of my administration that he had suffered any injustice or had been in any way oppressed or injured by any act of mine while acting as President of the United States.

Frederick Douglass

Although Congresswoman Norton (D-DC) has shown no interest or intellectual rigor in truly honoring Frederick Douglass’s legacy of advocacy in Washington, D.C. that doesn’t mean you can’t. The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress are easily accessible online which include thousands of correspondence, ephemera of daily life, and some of his best known and lesser known speeches.

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