Posts Tagged Paris

Frederick Douglass on his memory of French statesmen Victor Schœlcher (pubed 1903)

Victor Schœlcher - Wikipedia

It was my good fortune, for so I certainly esteem it, while in Paris four years ago, to have had several memorable interviews with the author of this book. I was first introduced to him in the Chamber of the French Senate by Mr. Theodore Stanton and on several occasions afterward met him at his own house. To say that I was very much impressed by his appearance and interested in his conversation is to say almost nothing of what I really experienced. I look back to my calls upon him as among the most interesting of the many interesting ones it has been my good fortune to make upon public men.

At the time I met him M. Schoelcher was already eighty years of age, yet the real living active man was there, and fully abreast with the demands of his time and country. Had he been in middle life, he could not have been more truly alive than he was to passing events at home and abroad. Like many other European statesmen he was deterred from labor neither by declining health nor weight of years, nor seemed to have any more idea of ceasing work than if forty years rather than eighty had been his actual age.

It was here that I learned his purpose to write the life of Toussaint, and heard his announcement with some amazement considering the many demands upon his time and considering his advanced age ; but he, better than I, knew the amount of work he could yet accomplish. I then ventured to promise that in case his biography of Toussaint should be published in the United States, I would write an introduction to the work, but with little expectation that I should ever be called upon to perform this grateful service.

Much that I then learned of the life and works of our author must be left to his biographer, but I may mention the surprise I felt in finding in Paris such a house as his. The room in which I found myself seated and where M. Schoelcher keeps his busy hand and brain at work was largely decorated with the emblems of slavery. There were old slave whips, which had been used on the backs of slaves in the French Colonies. On the walls were handcuffs, broken chains, fetters, and iron collars with sharp prongs which had galled the necks and limbs of despairing bondmen, but which now gall them no more. These barbarous implements of a past condition were sent to M. Schoelcher by negroes from the Colonies in grateful recognition of his instrumentality in setting them free. One could easily see that the venerable liberator looked upon these iron testimonials with a sense of relief and satisfaction. There were not wanting other and more valuable tokens of negro gratitude to this noble philanthropist, grateful evidences that he had not lived in vain. In these, Martinique and Guadaloupe were well represented. Better these than all the laurels gained on the field of battle and blood. They tell of those victories more renowned in peace than in war, and to which man may look without any heart-piercing thoughts of slaughter and the ten thousand horrors of war.

Several colored members of the Chamber of Deputies called upon Senator Schoelcher on the mornings of my visits. I was pleased to observe that his manner towards them had in it no show of patronage. He received them as one gentleman should receive another, with dignified cordiality. They came, I believe, to consult their venerable benefactor in respect to measures then pending in the Assembly of which they were members. Their manners plainly told that they had the fullest confidence in the wisdom of their adviser.


Open Court, 1903, Vol 17. p. 757 – 760.

Editor’s Note:

Those who steal my research and citations will be named & set afire in the flames.

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Dr. Frederick Douglass in Paris, France “wept with joy” upon hearing a “Negro girl” sing “Steal Away To Jesus”

Earlier this month there was an academic conference in Paris focusing on the subject of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass.

Short on scholarship, such as Frederick Douglass in Paris, and long on speculation and “intersectionality,” the gathered assemblage and conference organizers missed a sacred opportunity to uplift and advance lost history.

Attentive scholars of Dr. Douglass, of which there are woefully few, know how important Paris was to Dr. Douglass. I need not offer further details, whereas material published on this blog has been properly and improperly cited in David Blight’s book, as well as used by other Ivy League professors.

I know folks who claim to be Douglass scholars but are limited in their scholarship and therefore more restricted in their interpretations take material on this blog to use as their own.

As a street historian my orientation is similar to Dr. John Creighton in that the information and research should be available to the public. As a result of this blog more than a couple family historians as well as others have reached out to me. As a result of this blog many dialogues have occurred and collaborative friendships commenced.

This folks who put together the #DouglassInParis conference have no personal nor intellectual integrity. In a forthcoming blog post I will detail why and how the conference was an embarrassment but for now I present further unknown and unpublished scholarship on #DouglassInParis …

FD in Paris _ newspaper anecdote-page-001 _ music

The Fisk Jubilee Singers made Gladstone weep and praise, and once when Fred Douglass was in Paris a reception was given him, and behind closed doors they had a Negro girl who was attending a school of musical culture, and when Mr. Douglass was at the highest pitch of jollity forth came the sweet melody of “Steal Away to Jesus,” and all was silent.

Finally Douglass said, “No one can sing that way but my people.”

The folding doors opened wide, and there stood a Negro girl with arms outstretched wide.

Douglass advanced without an introduction, embraced her and wept with joy.



Trademarked research not to be purloined by Princeton undergraduates or condescending and snide professors.

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Letter to New Yorker; Important factual correction needed; “The Prophetic Pragmatism of Frederick Douglass” in October 15, 2018 edition

Cover of The New Yorker's first issue in 1925 with illustration depicting iconic character Eustace TilleyOctober 15, 2018

David Remnick: Editor, The New Yorker
Adam Gopnik: Staff Writer, The New Yorker
Andrew Boynton, Copy Editor, The New Yorker
Team of Copy Editors, The New Yorker

On October 10, 2018 I was alerted via text message by a member of the family of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass about Adam Gopnik’s article, “The Prophetic Pragmatism of Frederick Douglass” in the October 15, 2018 print edition of The New Yorker.

In a forthcoming letter I will address concerns members of the Douglass Family and Bailey Tribe have expressed to me regarding the “speculative history” Mr. Gopnik posits in “The Prophetic Pragmatism of Frederick Douglass.”

However, this letter is prompted by a blaring and outstanding factual error in Mr. Gopnik’s article.

In the the last sentence of the third paragraph it reads:

And then, in 1881, when he was in his sixties, he published “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” in which this man, who had watched the ships go by in the Chesapeake Bay with a desperate sense of disbelief that anyone or anything in the world could be so free, was able to report on his journeys to Cairo and Paris and his reception in both as a man of state and of letters.

This sentence is false.

Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass, America’s Pharaoh, first visited Paris in 1886 and Cairo in 1887. I have researched these visits and published facts and particulars about these visits on the blog.

Dr. Douglass does not detail these visits in the 1881 version of Life and Times of Frederick Douglass as it would have been a metaphysical impossibility as well a rupture of the space-time continuum.

Dr. Douglass reported on his journeys to Cairo and Paris in his 1892 version of Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.

Nothing less than a correction to the online article and a print correction in the next available edition of The New Yorker will properly uplift and correct the fallen history of Dr. Douglass in the bicentennial year of his birth.


John Muller
author, Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia (The History Press, 2012)

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Frederick Douglass in Paris: A visit to Lafayette’s Tomb; Patriot respect Patriot

It recently came to my attention content from this blog was instrumental in the creation of a “Frederick Douglass in the City of Lights: Walking Tour” created by Princeton University undergraduates (sophomores and juniors) with the guidance of Associate Professor of History Rhae Lynn Barnes.

Drawing largely from my posts about the friendship of Dr. Douglass and journalist-poet Theodore Tilton, the students assembled an impressive, yet abridged, multi-media guide to some of the extant locations Douglass visited while in Paris including a hotel and a cafe.

Evading, however, their scholarly attention, or rather scholarly pilferage, was the visit Douglass and Tilton reportedly made to the present-day 12th arrondissement to pay their respects to the Tomb of General Marquis de Lafayette in the rear of the private Picpus Cemetery.

A Visit to Lafayette’s Tomb

Earlier this week I took ligne 6 to Picpus, a not insignificant distance from the city center and areas where Douglass is known to have frequented in Paris.

Within the short walk down the street and around the corner to the cemetery there were several multi-story developments underway. Construction was happening on a property immediately adjacent to the cemetery while across the street from the large wooden doors to the walled-in cemetery is a Total gas station.

Arriving at the cemetery doors I found myself in the company of two Brits and their friend from Florida. We quickly confirmed our intentions to visit Lafayette’s Tomb; mine for purposes of Douglass while theirs was due an interest in the dual patriot because of his presence in the popular musical Hamilton.

Once inside, the doors closed, the sounds of traffic seemed to fade away. Before us was a pebbled patch leading beyond a house to a large grassy area leading beyond to the Picpus Cemetery to the right.

A groundskeeper kept to himself trimming and clipping a line of rose bushes. By my count a half-dozen free range chickens scurried around under foot watched closely by a rooster in the bushes.

A statue of an archangel preparing to drive a spear through the devil’s head stood by its lonesome. Due the history of the Cimetière de Picpus the sculpture is felicitous.

Once inside the cemetery the noises of nearby children playing in a school yard proved a delightful soundtrack. As I proceeded towards Lafayette’s Tomb I passed numerous graves with dates of interment predating the visit of Dr. Douglass and Theodore Tilton in the winter of 1886 – 1887.

Arriving at Lafayette’s Tomb I paused a moment to pay my respects to a man with credentials of a patriot in two countries. Any Frenchmen who names their son “George Washington Lafayette” is alright to me and mines.

Adorned with a flag-poled Star Spangled Banner and plaques from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Knox Museum (“Very Revolutionary”) and a number of Old Virginia cities there were more than a couple quarters tabled on Lafayette’s Tomb.

Lingering for more than a couple moments I was taken aback with what Lafayette has meant and continues to mean to American citizens.

The decision of Dr. Douglass to visit Lafayette’s Tomb was deliberate.

Man respect man. Patriot respect patriot.

Simple as that.

All photos by Honorable William Alston-El. Copyright strictly enforced online and offline in USA, France and everywhere.

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Editor’s Note:

Special thanks and unconditional love to the Husson Family of Paris and my big brother Alexandre de Paris, an American and French patriot just like General Lafayette.

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“I have shed no tears,” Theodore Tilton remembers his brother from another, Frederick Douglass

Theodore Tilton c1870.jpgParis, France, March 3, 1895

My Dear Mrs. Douglass:

I infer that by this time you will have gone back from Rochester to Washington.

As to Frederick, I have already said my say. I have said it in verse.

But what I have said – now that I have said it – seems to me to be written in so intimate, so personal and so affectionate a vein, that I question the good judgement of publishing my eulogistic stanzas at the present moment.

I will not trust them even to myself.  * * *

Meanwhile, my object in this note is to say that, ever since I had the news of his death, I have been filled with every friendly emotion except one, and that is, grief, for of this sombre sensation I have felt none at all; but, on the contrary, I have experienced a strange joy and pride that he has rounded out his many years amid such universal honor, and has gone down into his grave with such a magnificent exit from this calumnious world.

I have shed no tears – pardon me for saying so – and I have therefore a more than common privilege of speech.

Please remember me to the boys and tell them to be as proud of their father as if he had been Miles Standish or Israel Putnam, or James Otis.

With kindest regards,

Theodore Tilton


In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass


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Q: Where was FD’s French edition of Life and Times printed? A: 8, rue Garancière, where the Paris Review was started.

FD in Paris _ p. 7 - where it was sold (1883 translation)There is a history to 8, rue Garancière.

Not only is this where Douglass’ French-language edition of Life and Times was published but it is the same address where George Plimpton (aka the voice of George Templeton Strong) edited and published the Paris Review in the early years.

According to Guy Talese:

In 1952 the Paris Review’s headquarters was a one-room office at 8 Rue Garancière. It was furnished with a desk, four chairs, a bottle of brandy, and several lively, long-legged Smith and Radcliffe girls who were anxious to get onto the masthead so that they might convince their parents back home of their innocence abroad.



Emory University Library


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Frederick Douglass’ book translated into French and printed in Paris, 1883 [Mes Années D’esclavage Et De Libertie = My Years of Slavery and Liberty]

FD in Paris _ p. 4 (1883 translation)ED Note: This isn’t the best quality scan but you get the idea. The idea is Parisians knew about FD before he stepped through la rues.

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“A Career Unique,” excerpt from Theodore Tilton’s Sonnets to the Memory of Frederick Douglass

Theodore Tilton c1870.jpgHe came to Paris; and we paced the streets

As if we twain were truants out of school!

We clomb aloft where many a carven ghoul

And grinning gargoyle mocked our giddy feats;

We made a sport of sitting in the seats

Where Kings of France were wont to sit and rule!

‘A throne,’ quote he, ‘is a pretender’s stool –

For kingship is a fraud, and kings are cheats!’


He loved a hero. Nor can I forget

How with uncovered head, in awe profound

He hailed Coligny’s all-too tardy stone [2];

And how, before the tomb of Lafayette [3],

He said, ‘This place is doubly sacred ground –

This patriot had two countries for his own!’


2 Admiral de Coligny was murdered in the St. Bartholomew massacre, on the night of August 24, 1752.

3 Lafayette lies in the Picpus Cemetery, rue Picpus, Paris.



Tilton, Theodore. Sonnets to the Memory of Frederick Douglass. Paris. Brentano’s, 37 Avenue De Opera. 1895, p. 11.

Editor’s Note:

It is sometimes cited that Paul Laurence Dunbar dedicated a 546-word poem to Douglass entitled “Douglass” in his 1896 poetry collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life.

Robert Hayden, a well-known modern poet who served as the first African-American US Poet Laureate in the late 1970s, is also often mentioned for his one paragraph poem dedicated to Douglass.

The “elusiveness” of Frederick Douglass in the barely-existent field of Douglassoniana Studies is because scholars have done very little original investigative work. This is seen in the very few references in Douglassoniana to Tilton’s poetry and writings about his friendship with his brother-from-another, Fred. Philip Foner did the work.

Within days of catching word in Paris that his friend had passed Tilton composed and published a short book dedicated to the memory of his dear brother. He promptly sent it to Helen Pitts Douglass in Washington.

There are more folks alleged to be Douglass scholars that deal in speculation, conjecture, psychoanalysis, guesswork and their own genuflecting on Douglass than actual scholarship.

That said, it is clear Tilton loved Douglass as though he was his own brother. Fred was from the streets. He understood when you’re mobbing through the streets of Paris it’s better to be with your brother than on the solo mission. I know.

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Former Vice President & U.S. Minister to Court of St. James refused Frederick Douglass passport to Paris

George Mifflin Dallas 1848.jpg“He took passage for England from Quebec on the 12th day of November, 1859, and was everywhere received with the old-time cordiality. As he was fresh from the scenes and events that had stirred the English almost as much as the American people, he was in great demand for more complete information. He had occasion to deliver many addresses and it was everywhere manifest that he had lost none of his former prestige.

The only setback he suffered was when he applied to George M. Dallas, the American Minister to the Court of St. James, for a passport for the purpose of visiting Paris. He was refused on the ground that he was not a citizen of the United States. His visit was cut short by the distressing news of the death of his beloved little daughter, Anna, the delight and life of his home, his absence having covered only five months. He returned to find the public temper toward him mollified by the swift happenings of a season which was marked by incessant change in the currents of popular feeling.”


Frederick Douglass by Booker T. Washington. 1906, p. 193 – 194

This story was told by FD during his life. A relatively moderate level of Douglassoniana obscura.

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Frederick Douglass in Paris and “in a Peevish Mood” [Washington Post, Dec. 1, 1886] & 2010 poster for gospel choir performance in Paris

Fred Douglass in a Peevish Mood.

Boston, Nov. 30. – Fred Douglass has written to friends from Paris saying that he has everywhere been received with civility, courtesy and kindness and as a man among men. “America has her missionaries abroad,” he says, “in the shape of Ethiopian singers who disfigure and distort the features of the negro and burlesque his language and manners in a way to make him appear to thousands as more akin to apes than men. This mode of warfare is purely American and it is carried on here in Paris as it is in the great cities of England and of the States, so that to many minds, as no good was thought to come out of Nazareth, so no good is expected of the negro. In addition to these Ethiopian buffoons and serenaders who presume to represent us abroad, there are malicious American writers who take pleasure in assailing us as an inferior and good-for-nothing race of which it is impossible to make anything.”



Europeans’ interest in black American culture continues in Paris today; black American gospel choirs perform regularly to packed cathedrals. Hip-hop music and culture, largely the creation of Jamaican and American peoples of African descent, can be seen in today’s Paris; graffiti is seemingly everywhere, and music is heard (in French and English) blaring from the shops of Montmartre and hundreds of headphones on the Métro.

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