Posts Tagged Octavius Catto

The Lost Comrades of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass

As a front line warrior-pharaoh Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass survived danger zones from his Tuckahoe birth to initiation as a “Point Boy” to his later years as a Washingtonian where his proclivity to walk the city streets was observed by the New York Tribune.

In the committed cause lives were lost. Dr. Douglass, not dissimilar to youngsters being raised within the tempestuous communities of Baltimore, Rochester and Washington City, was exposed to brutality and savagery at an early age, a birthright inheritance of American slavery.

Inter and intra-neighborhood violence and harassment by law enforcement remains an element of life in contemporary Douglassonian communities. Conditions faced by school-aged children in Old Anacostia have troubling similarities to conditions Frederick Bailey negotiated in pursuit of his liberation.

The spirit of Dr. Douglass is a guardian angel with wingspan and reach expansive to shelter and comfort the fallen and lost souls. There are generations, including the late William Alston-El, a legendary indigenous Old Anacostia Douglassonian, who lost classmates, cellmates, friends and family to the streets yet elevated and uplifted his own humanity to serve as an international corner-man ambassador. My friend William is a modern lost comrade of the spirit of Dr. Douglass.

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Life and Times, 1892. p. 79

Independent research by biographer Dickson Preston confirmed the archival record of the death — and potential open murder case, as recalled in the Narrative — of “Denby” on the Lloyd plantation. Other early incidents of ultra violence in the life of Frederick Douglass and his closest family are recorded in his autobiographies, including his imprisonment in Easton, Maryland for plotting an organized escape.

Coming up as a young lion Dr. Douglass came up within a complex danger zone to achieve his freedom. Alongside Anna, a militant abolitionist, the Douglass household in Rochester was an active Underground Railroad station.

Within the city of Rochester and surrounding towns, villages and counties of Western New York Dr. Douglass was widely known as an active conductor. As the Civil War approached the daily sheets reported fugitives being directed to the newspaper office of Editor Douglass.

Before his execution by the government for a failed attempt to seize a federal weapons arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, abolitionist John Brown, in company with his sons, delivered homicide upon pro-slavery factions in “Bleeding Kansas.”

The presence of Dr. Douglass commanded respect as equally with Methodist preachers as with runaway slave-scholars and radical young journalists, such as Ida Wells, armed with pen and pistol.

In the whirlwind Dr. Douglass lost family, friend and foe.

A statue of Octavius Catto, an educator murdered in Philadelphia in 1871, was installed last year. 

Less than a year before his own flight from Fell’s Point editor Elijah Lovejoy was killed by mob in Illinois. While establishing himself as a local fugitive-slave scholar and abolitionist in Massachusetts and connecting with William Lloyd Garrison riots in Cincinnati broke out. Charles Van Loon, a preacher and abolitionist, was attacked and killed in late 1847 just weeks after sharing the stage with Dr. Douglass.

Weeks after speaking with Abraham Lincoln in Washington City the first American President was assassinated by a deranged actor ready to conspire and murder in the name of white supremacy. On Election Day in October 1871 Douglass’ associate and radical educator Octavius Catto was murdered in Philadelphia. In 1876 John Sella Martin, a young man Douglass looked out for, succumbed to death by his own hand.

While it is the style of historians to fashion an event, institution or person this way or that way, prejudicial to their own perspective, Dr. Douglass is of infinite styles and smarts. Neither preachers, biographers nor newspaper editors can ever fashion Dr. Douglass nor his family.

The smarts of Dr. Douglass can only be understood by Gods who have safeguarded generations of men and women preaching rebellion on street corners as long as there have been street corners to preach on.

Somehow and someway Dr. Douglass survived. The Gods of the Streets know. Biographers do not.

This was supposed to be an introduction to two specific small anecdotes which demonstrate and edify the point that Dr. Douglass survived danger zones but it somehow became its own entry.

To be continued …


 

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Educator Mrs. Fanny Jackson Coppin, namesake of Coppin State University in Baltimore, ran with industrial education advocate Dr. Frederick Douglass

In celebration of Women’s History Month we will make an effort to post weekly about reformist-minded women Dr. Frederick Douglass agitated and ran with in the circles of temperance, suffrage, journalism, education and other activist causes and purposes.

The first woman we feature is educator Mrs. Fanny Jackson Coppin, remembered today by the university on the west side of North Avenue in Baltimore which bears her name.

Whereas another day awaits a detailed account of the working relationship and friendship between Douglass and Coppin, here we share a brief excerpt from Coppin’s 1913 book with a brief anecdote detailing Douglass’ belief in industrial education as a means of economic self-determination.

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In the year 1837, the Friends of Philadelphia had established a school for the education of colored youth in higher learning. To make a test whether or not the Negro was capable of acquiring any considerable degree of education. For it was one of the strongest arguments in the defense of slavery, that the Negro was an inferior creation; formed by the Almighty for just the work he was doing.

It is said that John C. Calhoun made the remark, that if there could be found a Negro that could conjugate a Greek verb, he would give up all his preconceived ideas of the inferiority of the Negro. Well, let’s try him, and see, said the fair-minded Quaker people. And for years this institution, known as the Institute for Colored Youth, was visited by interested persons from different parts of the United States and Europe.

Here I was given the delightful task of teaching my own people, and how delighted I was to see them mastering Caesar, Virgil, Cicero, Horace and Xenophon’s Anabasis. We also taught New Testament Greek. It was customary to have public examinations once a year, and when the teachers were thru examining their classes, any interested person in the audience was requested to take it up, and ask questions. At one of such examinations, when I asked a titled Englishman to take the class and examine it, he said: “They are more capable of examining me, their proficiency is simply wonderful.”

One visiting friend was so pleased with the work of the students in the difficult metres in Horace that he afterwards sent me, as a present, the Horace which he used in college. A learned Friend from Germantown, coming into a class in Greek, the first aorist, passive and middle, being so neatly and correctly written at one board, while I, at the same time, was hearing a class recite, exclaimed: “Fanny, I find thee driving a coach and six.” As it is much more difficult to drive a coach and six, than a coach and one, I took it as a compliment. But I was especially glad to know that the students were doing their work so well as to justify Quakers in their fair-minded opinion of them.

General O. O. Howard, who was brought in at one time by one of the managers to hear an examination in Virgil, remarked that Negroes in trigonometry and the classics might well share in the triumphs of their brothers on the battlefield.

When I came to the School, the Principal of the Institute was Ebenezer D. Bassett, who for fourteen years had charge of the work. He was a graduate of the State Normal School of Connecticut, and was a man of unusual natural and acquired ability, and an accurate and ripe scholar; and, withal, a man of great modesty of character. Many are the reminiscences he used to give of the visits of interested persons to the school: among these was a man who had written a book to prove that the Negro was not a man. And, having heard of the wonderful achievements of this Negro school, he determined to come and see for himself what was being accomplished. He brought a friend with him, better versed in algebra than himself, and asked Mr. Bassett to bring out his highest class. There was in the class at that time Jesse Glasgow, a very black boy. All he asked was a chance. Just as fast as they gave the problems, Jesse put them on the board with the greatest ease. This decided the fate of the book, then in manuscript form, which, so far as we know, was never published. Jesse Glasgow afterwards found his way to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

In the year 1869, Mr. Bassett was appointed United States Minister to Hayti by President Grant; leaving the principalship of the Institute vacant. Now, Octavius V. Catto, a professor in the school, and myself, had an opportunity to keep the school up to the same degree of proficiency that it attained under its former Principal and to carry it forward as much as possible.

March 30 1876 _ FMJ to FD

Letter from Fanny Jackson to Frederick Douglass, 30 March 1876. Courtesy of LOC, Douglass Papers.

About this time we were visited by a delegation of school commissioners, seeking teachers for schools in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. These teachers were not required to know and teach the classics, but they were expected to come into an examination upon the English branches, and to have at their tongue’s end the solution of any abstruse problem in the three R’s which their examiners might be inclined to ask them. And now, it seemed best to give up the time spent in teaching Greek and devote it to the English studies.

As our young people were now about to find a ready field in teaching, it was thought well to introduce some text books on school management, and methods of teaching, and thoroughly prepare our students for normal work. At this time our faculty was increased by the addition of Richard T. Greener, a graduate of Harvard College, who took charge of the English Department, and Edward Bouchet, a graduate of Yale College, and also of the Sheffield Scientific School, who took charge of the scientific department. Both of these young men were admirably fitted for their work. And, with Octavius V. Catto in charge of the boys’ department, and myself in charge of the girls–in connection with the principalship of the school–we had a strong working force.

I now instituted a course in normal training, which at first consisted only of a review of English studies, with the theory of teaching, school management and methods. But the inadequacy of this course was so apparent that when it became necessary to reorganize the Preparatory Departments, it was decided to put this work into the hands of the normal students, who would thus have ample practice in teaching and governing under daily direction and correction. These students became so efficient in their work that they were sought for and engaged to teach long before they finished their course of study.

Richard Humphreys, the Friend–Quaker–who gave the first endowment with which to found the school, stipulated that it should not only teach higher literary studies, but that a Mechanical and Industrial Department, including Agriculture, should come within the scope of its work. The wisdom of this thoughtful and far-seeing founder has since been amply demonstrated.

At the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, the foreign exhibits of work done in trade schools opened the eyes of the directors of public education in America as to the great lack existing in our own system of education. If this deficiency was apparent as it related to the white youth of the country, it was far more so as it related to the colored.

In Philadelphia, the only place at the time where a colored boy could learn a trade, was in the House of Refuge, or the Penitentiary!

And now began an eager and intensely earnest crusade to supply this deficiency in the work of the Institute for Colored Youth.

The teachers of the Institute now vigorously applied their energies in collecting funds for the establishment of an Industrial Department, and in this work they had the encouragement of the managers of the school, who were as anxious as we that the greatly needed department should be established.

In instituting this department, a temporary organization was formed, with Mr. Theodore Starr as President, Miss Anna Hallowell as Treasurer, and myself as Field Agent.

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The Academic Department of the Institute had been so splendidly successful in proving that the Negro youth was equally capable as others in mastering a higher education, that no argument was necessary to establish its need, but the broad ground of education by which the masses must become self-supporting was, to me, a matter of painful anxiety.

Frederick Douglass once said, it was easier to get a colored boy into a lawyer’s office than into a blacksmith shop; and on account of the inflexibility of the Trades Unions, this condition of affairs still continues, making it necessary for us to have our own “blacksmith shop.”

The minds of our people had to be enlightened upon the necessity of industrial education.

SOURCE:

Jackson-Coppin, Fanny. Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints of Teaching. Philadelphia, PA. 1913.

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