Posts Tagged Philip Foner
Case for Speculations: David Blight is an intellectual disgrace to Douglassonian Biographers Frederic May Holland, James Monroe Gregory, Benjamin Quarles, Philip Foner, John Blassingame and Dickson J. Preston (Part 2)
There is a Hall of Fame of Douglassonian Biographers.
In order of appearance: Frederic May Holland, James Monroe Gregory, Benjamin Quarles, Philip Foner, John Blassingame and Dickson J. Preston.
(ED Note: Leigh Fought is not eligible as her years as a Douglassonian are still active. The Kendricks would be inducted as a father-son duo of Douglassonians.)
Absent from this short list is David Blight of Yale University, one of the most overrated Civil War historians of the last generation.
Douglassonians are thorough-headed scholars of FD’s network as a connecting line throughout his entire life, from connections running the neighborhood streets of Fells Point to local petitioners who approached him while he walked the muddy streets of Old Anacostia, a locally respected and internationally known statesman for the friendless.
Blight is not a Douglassonian. Blight’s presentations on Douglass are restrictive and dated, just as is his scholarship.
Blight’s book published nearly thirty years ago in 1989 was an outgrowth of his 1985 dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the same institution attended by another over-rated old American white man and alleged “Douglass Scholar.” The book is by Blight’s own admission “juvenile writing.” We agree.
Blight covers Douglass in the years leading to the Civil War and during the Civil War. It’s a book every Douglass scholar should have but not one that is of particular importance. It’s maybe a top 50 Douglass book, not better than that. There are around 100 real books about Douglass so Blight’s work by honest evaluation is a book in the middle, not bad, not particularly good. In reading of Blight’s book in preparation for writing my own book he gets a number of dates and facts related to the Douglass Reconstruction years in Washington City wrong.
David Blight, a 68-year old former high school history teacher from Flint, Michigan, has comfortably traveled the country and world for years without advancing any unique understanding or interpretation of Douglass beyond the metaphorical.
He views Douglass as a mythical metaphor. He lauds Harvard professor John Stauffer, who has taken credit for research done by Zoe Trodd and Celeste-Marie Bernier and did some other jankey stuff with his inaccurately sub-titled co-authored book.
Douglass is a neighborhood guy. This stable of current old American white men who are somehow lauded and labeled “Douglass experts” — Blight, Ira Berlin and John Stauffer [the youngest being born in 1965] — will never understand Douglass as Freddy Fred. Never. Never ever. All Douglass is to them is a method for them to reign unchallenged within their Ivory Towers of largely speculative scholarship.
Douglass is a benevolent spirit watching over all the intellectual curious children of the 1-6 and lost souls seeking shelter from the sub-zero temperatures in the abandominiums of Old Anacostia.
Douglass is not a past and distant myth and a convenient metaphor.
Real live. He’s got the biggest house in the ‘hood.
Case for Speculations (1): Imitating Douglass’ voice, cracked, high-pitched and subservient
This is not history. It is bizarre pseudo-speculation and this old white man’s effort to imitate how he thinks Frederick Douglass would conduct himself in a meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. Bizarre on many levels.
A true historian, let alone a Douglassonian, would directly quote from source material. Blight does not. He offers an imitation of Douglass.
See, young scholar-soldiers, I came up 901 G. Where you might catch Anthony Pitch giving a presentation without a single inference, note of speculation, whiff of guesswork or hint of conjecture.
This non-historical pseudo-genuflecting drivel by Blight and other alleged “Douglass experts” is nothing any respectable W Street Douglassonian and self-respecting historian can and will ever respect.
Case for Speculations (2): “You can milk it for pages.“
Blight demonstrates his appalling laziness as a speculative historian by professing that to a narrative-based biographer such as himself he jumps at the occasion to take any short cut he can find.
When looking through vertical files of old newspaper clippings that chronicle Douglass’ life and times, in real time, Blight admits when he finds a clipping he views the discovery as an opportunity to “milk it for pages.”
In his presentation to Harvard Law School he says this with exaggeration, emphasizing the point with a small rattle of his off-dominant lecture hand.
On W Street we don’t milk. We research. We respect the game. Otherwise they take you out.
I’m on mission to agitate, agitate, agitate and take out all of these alleged Douglass experts who are a disgrace to the limited and sacred Hall of Fame of Douglassonian Biographers.
Don’t tell me Blight is a Douglass expert because he is not. He is a speculative, mediocre Civil War historian.
He 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 ;
And how, before the tomb of Lafayette ,
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.
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.