Posts Tagged Rev. Jeremiah Rankin
Howard University President Jeremiah Rankin on Dr. Frederick Douglass: “How knoweth this man letters?” … “he had the best teachers and examples the Anglo-Saxon schools could afford.”
As a self-educated fugitive slave-scholar Dr. Frederick Douglass, when a young man in his twenties, schooled Anglo-Saxon abolitionists, politicians, philosophers and statesmen of the old world to his world of American slavery. Reciprocally, Dr. Douglass benefited from an invaluable education to the ways of oration, statecraft and moral, political and legal activism.
As previously reported here, cited by Frederic May Holland, people often asked Dr. Douglass where he received his education. To which he replied, “Massachusetts Abolition University. Mr. Garrison, President.”
In this spirit we share an excerpt from the eulogy offered by Rev. Jeremiah Rankin of Howard University at Douglass’ funeral in Washington City.
I do not at all underrate the work done by those magnificent champions of freedom, who took this young man at twenty-five into the charmed coterie of their fearless eloquence; who gave him the baptism of their approval; who laid their hands upon his head, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Philips and their associates.
But they needed him as much as he needed them.
After their cool and eloquent logic, after their studied irony and invective, which, mighty as it was, was wanting in the tremolo of the voice of one that has suffered, of one whose very modulations signified more than their words; when this man arose, as one rises from the dead, as the ghost of one, the crown and scepter of whose manhood has been stolen away, while he goes from land to land proclaiming the wrong and asking for justice, then the climax was reached.
This man made work of such men as Garrison and Phillips and Sumner and even Lincoln possible.
I do not wish to use the language of exaggeration. It is not fitting the occasion. It is not in keeping with the dignified manner and methods of the man whom we commemorate, or the providential movement of which he was so long a part.
But I believe the birth of Frederick Douglass into slavery was the beginning of the end; and that this was just as needful to his anti-slavery associates as to himself.
God planted a germ there, which was to burst the cruel system apart.
It was though He said, “Go to, now, ye wise men of the Great Republic, ye Websters and Clays, I will put this Samson of freedom in your temple of Dagon, and his tawny arms shall yet tumble its columns about the ears of the worshipers. I will put the ark of my covenant in the soul of this man, and the time shall come when your idol-god shall lie toppled over upon his nose in his presence.”
I think Frederick Douglass is to be congratulated on the kind of tuition that came to him; no, that God had provided for him, through these anti-slavery associates.
They were regarded as the offscouring of the earth, and yet many of them received their culture in the choicest New England schools, and they sprang from the noblest New England stock.
These men Mr. Douglass studied, admired and analyzed.
His more elaborate address, too, show the influence of the first and greatest of New England orators – Daniel Webster.
But even beyond the great American orator, whose model orations in all our schools-books was Mr. Douglass in the quality of fervor and fire.
Ah! that was a day when the runaway slave heard the great statesman at Bunker Hill. And he told me that he owed a great debt to the poems of Whittier.
To converse with Mr. Douglass, to hear him in public, one who knew his humble origin and limited opportunities, might well ask, “How knoweth this man letters?”
But, in the art of which he himself had such mastery, he had the best teachers and examples the Anglo-Saxon schools could afford, while not one the great men mentioned had such a theme as his.
How carefully he improved his intercourse with such men, his observations of them, one has to only read his life to discover.
Howard University, I believe, gave this man the degree of doctor laws, and there were some laws that no man knew better how to doctor than he.
But there was not an official of the University who could reach high enough to put a wreath on his brow. It had to be done from above, by the winged genius of the University.
Published in a variety of journals and magazines, including Our Day: The Altruistic Review, Volume XIV. January – June. (1895). p. 172 – 173
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.