Posts Tagged University of Rochester

“Making the case for Frederick Douglass’ connection with UR,” Jim Memmott, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [July 18, 2018]

Image result for democrat and chronicle[This article ran in the Democrat and Chronicle on July 18, 2018. Thank you, Mr. Jim Memmott.]

Original article HERE!

The abolitionist Frederick Douglass was an emancipated slave with no formal education. Most certainly, he never went to college; however, it would seem that college came to him, honoring his intellect, praising his achievements.

John Muller, the author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia, makes a special case for a connection between Douglass and the University of Rochester and its president, Martin Brewer Anderson.

“The friendly relationship between Douglass and (the) Rev. Martin B. Anderson, as well as faculty and students at the University of Rochester, is pivotal to understanding Douglass’ Rochester years,” Muller wrote in an email. “… The mutual respect President Anderson and Douglass had for each other demonstrates how Douglass was uniquely supported by the ‘learned community’ in Rochester and the contributions he made to the intellectual vitality of Rochester as one of its leading citizens.”

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth in Maryland as a slave. To mark the anniversary, the UR awarded Douglass a posthumous honorary doctor of laws degree in May. (Full disclosure: I teach journalism at UR.)

The degree recognized the fact that Douglass had been a leading abolitionist and published The North Star while living in Rochester from 1847 to 1872. He then moved to Washington, D.C., after his house on South Avenue burned down.

The time Douglass spent in Rochester overlapped with the early years of the UR, which was founded in 1850. Three years later, Martin Brewer Anderson became the university’s first president.

Muller lives in Washington and is a grandson of the late William B. Hemmer, a professor at The College of Brockport. He maintains a blog, thelionofanacostia.wordpress.com (Anacostia is the Washington neighborhood in which Douglass lived).

In the blog, Muller points to a letter of thanks that Douglass wrote to Anderson in 1868 after Anderson had helped him arrange a speech at another university. Anderson was also a member of a committee that commissioned Rochester sculptor Johnson Mundy to create a bust of Douglass. At the dedication ceremony in 1879, he spoke glowingly of Douglass.

“(Frederick Douglass) was a man born in slavery,” Anderson said, “but by a display of indomitable energy and a never wavering courage he raised himself to the level of the foremost orators, philanthropists and emancipators of the day.”

As Muller notes, Galusha Anderson (no relation to Martin Anderson), a student at the UR in the 1850s who later became the president of the University of Chicago, also had high praise for Frederick Douglass.

He wrote how UR students would gather in the library to read the new issues of The North Star. “He never had a day’s schooling in his life, yet he gripped and delighted college students,” Galusha Anderson wrote in 1916.

Anderson went on to write that “Pres. Martin B. Anderson of the university warmly befriended (Douglass), suggested much to him in conversations and commended to him useful books.”

Melissa S. Mead, the university’s archivist and Rochester Collections librarian, says that research into the connection between Frederick Douglass and Martin Anderson is ongoing.

However, the university doesn’t have Anderson’s outgoing mail in its collection. “It’s possible that he sent letters to Douglass, but we have no way of knowing that,” Mead says.

It should be noted, too, that the enthusiasm for Douglass did not translate quickly into the admission of African-American students at UR. Charles Augustus Thomson, class of 1891, was the first African-American to graduate; Beatrice Amaza Howard, class of 1931, was the first African-American woman to graduate.

A bust of Douglass was first placed in Sibley Hall on the old campus of the university. It is now on display in Frederick Douglass Commons on the university’s River Campus. Thus, Douglass is a familiar presence at the UR, perhaps as he was while living here.

Honoring the dead
William H. Cooper Marine Post No. 603 of the American Legion will conduct a ceremony at 11 a.m. July 18 in Mt. Hope Cemetery, noting the 100th anniversary of the death of its namesake.

Born in Rochester in 1892, Sgt. Cooper was an electrician when he enlisted in April 1917. Sent to France in October, he was killed in action July 18, 1918.

On Remarkable Rochester
Retired Senior Editor Jim Memmott reflects on what makes Rochester distinctively Rochester, its history, its habits, its people. Since 2010, he has also been compiling a list of Remarkable Rochesterians.

Remarkable Rochesterians
Let’s add the names of this college president to the list of Remarkable Rochesterians that can be found at at rochester.nydatabases.com:

Martin B. Anderson (1815-1890): He became the first president of the University of Rochester in 1853 and served for 35 years, retiring in 1888. Born in Maine, he graduated from Waterville College (now Colby College), attended Newton Theological Institution in Massachusetts, and later returned to Waterville to teach. He went on to edit a Baptist newspaper in New York City until he came to UR, where, in addition to his presidential duties, he lectured on philosophy, constitutional law and other subjects. He also oversaw the move of the college from a hotel to a new campus on Prince Street.

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University of Rochester graduate and Speaker of New York State Assembly, “Although university education was wanting to him, [Frederick Douglass] made up for it by intense application to the work of college men.”

“Many people rank Douglass higher as a writer than an orator, and believe that his work in this line will live longest. He was indefatigable as a worker. He entered in newspapers and did all the drudgery connected therewith in the early days. He cultivated a pure and graceful style, and the volume and felicity of his expression is really amazing to one who knows his history. He read far and wide, and was a hard student. He was a self-made man in every sense. He illustrated another exception in that he demonstrated the fact that it is not always necessary for a man to be a college graduate to succeed in literary life. Although university education was wanting to him, he made up for it by intense application to the work of college men. He never believed his education was finished, but was a student until the day of his death.”

Remarks by Rochesterian and 1885 graduate of the University of Rochester, James M. E. O’Grady, Speaker of the New York Assembly and future United States Congressman, on May 11, 1898 at a fundraiser for the Douglass Monument.

SOURCE:

Thompson, J. W. AN AUTHENTIC HISTORY OF THE DOUGLASS MONUMENT. 1903, p. 73.

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Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass & Higher Education: University of Rochester Edition, Pt. 5 [University of Chicago President Galusha Anderson recalls reading ‘Frederick Douglass’ Paper’ in University of Rochester reading room, “soon as it was spread on the sloping desk by the wall a half-dozen or more students would gather in a cluster around it.”]

Galusha Anderson, fifth president of the University of Chicago, recalled his memories of Dr. Douglass while a student in Rochester.

As a fugitive slave-scholar Dr. Frederick Douglass used his life experiences to educate the educated.

Without advantage of a singular formal day of school in his life Douglass commanded intellectual influence with fellow fugitive slave-scholars, international abolitionists, Pan-African Nationalists, suffragists, journalists, preachers, congressmen, senators and university presidents and students.

One of the first universities which welcomed the teachings of Dr. Douglass was the University of Rochester, founded in 1850 just three years after Douglass launched The North Star.

Previous blog posts have documented the relationship Dr. Douglass had with President Martin B. Anderson. We will continue to elevate and educate the known to the unknowing scholars of the close connection Dr. Douglass had with the University of Rochester.

We hope a city which prides itself on its association with Dr. Douglass would take interest in the continued unknown research being advanced by the author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia.

As a W Street Douglassonian the street corner has been our seminar on Dr. Douglass. It is from whence the imperative and mandate to uplift fallen history originates.

Along with documenting the relationships between Dr. Douglass and M. B. Anderson, Heman Lincoln Wayland and John Henry Raymond — all who served the University of Rochester during its early years — we continue to bring forth militant scholarship to elevate Dougassoniana Studies. Somebody has to.

According to a recent series of articles in Rochester’s City Paper there is a sincere interest among Rochesterians for a more expansive telling of the history of Douglass’ years in Rochester.

According to a recent article:

“We don’t have the kinds of sources historians rely upon to write the kind of study of a person and a place that readers demand today,” Hudson [an associate professor of history at the University of Rochester] says.

The destruction of Douglass’s home of 20 years closed the Rochester chapter of his life.

We find this curious and wholly inaccurate considering the author of Lion of Anacostia has now introduced more than a half-dozen unknown and previously unpublished letters, articles and anecdotes about Douglass in Rochester on this blog in recent weeks.

Maybe Rochester cares? They claim to. Therefore we ask University of Rochester claim its importance to the Rochester years of Dr. Douglass.

The University of Rochester is pivotal to the intellectual history of Dr. Douglass that has been untold and previously unknown. Don’t believe me. Believe the scholarship.

If University of Rochester does not know and acknowledge its own relationship with Dr. Douglass why posthumously award him a degree? To my untrained methods that seems half-honorific, half-dishonest.

If Dr. Douglass is going to be recognized and honored for his intellect let it be done with intellectual honor to scholarship. Right?

—–

Galusha Anderson, 5th president of the University of Chicago, recalls Frederick Douglass and the University of Rochester 

While a student at the University of Rochester in the mid-1850s Galusha Anderson frequently saw Dr. Douglass about town, attended his lectures and recalled the popularity of his newspaper among his classmates.

In a 1916 essay, Anderson provided a personal reminiscence, excerpts shared below:

It is not my purpose to give even an outline sketch of the fascinating life of Frederick Douglass. …

For twenty-five years Douglass lived in Rochester, N.Y.

During my college days in that city I often saw him and at times heard him speak with ravishing eloquence. He edited a weekly paper, the North Star. Later it was named Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Though contending with manifold difficulties, he made it a success. It had an average circulation of 3,000, the maximum being 4,000.

It came regularly to the reading room of the university, and as soon as it was spread on the sloping desk by the wall a half-dozen or more students would gather in a cluster around it, eager to read Douglass’ editorials; not because he was a fugitive slave, but on account of the intrinsic worth of his utterances.

He had a virile grasp of his subject and wrote in clear, strong, pungent Saxon. He never had a day’s schooling in his life, yet he gripped and delighted college and seminary students.

Pres. Martin B. Anderson of the university warmly befriended him, suggested much to him in conversation and commended to him useful books. …

Called to speak in Detroit, he took a steamboat at Buffalo for that city. He bought a first-class ticket that included his meals. When the dinner gong sounded he took his seat at the table, whereupon some gentlemen, suffering from Negrophobia, indignantly demanded that he should be ejected from the dining-room.

At that time in Rochester, the spirit-mediums, the Fox girls, were notorious for their summoning of departed spirits that supposedly lifted tables and raped on ceilings and walls. Throughout the country there was much talk of the Rochester rapings.

The steward of the steamboat came to Douglass and requested him, for the sake of peace, to leave the table. He replied that he had a first-class ticket, which entitled him to his meals, and that standing on his manifest rights he intended to remain.

“Then,” said the steward, “we shall have to put you out.”

“If you lay a finger on me,” said Douglass, “I’ll give you a practical example of the Rochester rapings.”

Looking on that stalwart frame, the steward quickly concluded that discretion was the better part of valor, and Douglass ate his meals unmolested.

Sibley Hall, University of Rochester.

Douglass, by his unusual intellectual ability and whole-hearted devotion to his enslaved race, won the respect and goodwill of the best citizens of Rochester.

In Sibley Hall, one of the buildings of the university, is a bust of Douglass.

When he died in Washington he was buried, according to his known wish, in Rochester’s beautiful cemetery, Mount Hope.

The leading citizens of his adopted city erected a bronze statue of him on a conspicuous site in the heart of Rochester. He came to that city a fugitive from bondage, unknown save by a very few, but in the revolving years won the esteem and admiration of the multitude, of the high and the low, the rich and the poor.

He rose to honor.

SOURCE:

(Full text) –>

Frederick Douglass,” Galusha Anderson. The Standard: A Baptist Newspaper, Vol. 64, No. 2. September 9, 1916. pages 6 – 7. (Published in Chicago.)

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W. S. Kerruish, Esq. recalls memories of Frederick Douglass at Case Western Reserve University in 1854 [“I saw Mr. Douglass walking beside the President and noted his dignity and his hair flowing away from his face, the look of self possession in his countenance.”]

The Edmondson sisters and Frederick Douglass.  Attending an 1850 anti-slavery convention in Cazenovia, N.Y., are Emily Edmonson (from left); Theodosia Gilbert (the finance of William Chaplin, who had helped organize the Pearl escape); Gerrit Smith, the wealthy abolitionist who likely financed the Pearl escape; Frederick Douglass, the leading anti-slavery orator of his day and chairman of the Fugitive Slave Law Convention; and Mary Edmonson.

August 1850, Grace Wilson’s apple orchard in Cazenovia, NY. Meeting gathered together Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, the Edmondson sisters, fugitive slaves and 2,000 others to denounce impending Fugitive Slave Act. Madison County Historical Society.

Despite Washington College conferring an honorary degree to Frederick Douglass in February, to atone for the unknown history of its founding, and University of Rochester planning to award Dr. Douglas an honorary degree next month the epic true story expanding more than a half-century and across three continents of Dr. Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave-scholar, and Higher Education has never been told 

Whereas I can understand the intellectual dishonesty of Washington College, the prevailing indifference by the University of Rochester to tell the untold and unknown story of Dr. Douglass and the University of Rochester I cannot understand.

I have politely, since last summer, tried to communicate to Jessica Lacher-Feldman there is a history to Douglass and M. B. Anderson, John Henry Raymond and others at the U of R that has never been told by national, regional or local historians.

The continuous obstinate anti-intellectual orientation of academics to the history of Douglass and Higher Education demonstrates a monumental betrayal of the legacy of Dr. Douglass. We all must uplift the fallen history.

We owe it the heritage we all inherit as educators from 16th & W Street to the Great Pyramids to this county’s most prestigious universities, all places Dr. Douglass left a footprint and an echo.

The militant scholarship is just getting started. I’m still being polite.

—–

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Just a few words. He would be a very ambitious person who would undertake to make a speech after such a display of eloquence learning and good taste as we have had here to-day, and I am not going to make a speech at all, but one of two things have occurred to me during the course of the entertainment to-day, that brings to mind changes that have occurred in opinion during the past forty or fifty years.

I am reminded of them, and isasmuch as they are a little bit personal, you will excuse what I may say.

A good many years ago it was my fortune to attend college down here at the Western Reserve before it had been transferred to another name, and there was no senior class and no junior class at that time. I had the honor of belonging to the Sophomore class and never the honor of belonging to the Freshmen class.

I had been brought up under influences that were a little bit anti-slavery. Out in Warrensville, we had been taking a paper published by a Negro by the name of Frederick Douglass.

Hearing his name mentioned to-day reminded me of this story:

It was the custom when Commencement time came around, to select some person of distinguished literary character or political character, perhaps, to come and deliver an address before the students.

I started the ball in motion suggesting the selection of Frederick Douglass. The authorities, found it out and they regarded the matter as a scandalous disgrace that a Negro should be thought of to deliver an address to a literary and college society; and I recollect that the old President sent for me, when he found that I was the chief aggressor.

Another man, who was a minister of the Gospel and professor of Mathematics, also sent for me and wanted me if I could, to stop the movement in favor of the negro.

Why, said he, it would be a disgrace to have an illiterate man come there and deliver an address. I said to him that he was not an illiterate man.

I had read his paper, and though perhaps I wasn’t a very good judge, being rather young, I would venture to say that he would do pretty well. Now, there was a minister of the Gospel who was my coadjutor who helped me through: with his help we boys passed a resolution to invite Mr. Douglass.

It raised as might have been expected a big row. You people who are less than fifty years of age can’t imagine what a change of opinion there has been since.

We invited him, but received no answer for some time; finally an answer however came saying that he would come.

The day he came — I remember was a fine one — Providence was on our side— and I recall that there was the biggest assemblage at Hudson that ever assembled on a like occasion. A great tent was put up, in which the address was delivered.

President George E. Pierce

George E. Pierce, 2nd president of Case Western Reserve.

The old President invited Mr. Douglass to his home and treated him as his guest. At the tent I was hid behind a big post, fearing some calamity would happen, but as I saw Mr. Douglass walking beside the President and noted his dignity and his hair flowing away from his face, the look of self possession in his countenance, I soon believed things were coming out all right.

He mounted the platform, looked around that vast audience perfectly self-possessed, and spoke a few words about the great interval there was between the slave plantation from which he escaped and the platform on which he stood.

Soon he held the audience as if it were in the hollow of his hand, and there was no revolution. The address was considered fine.

I remember I said to the Professor of Greek and Latin. “What do you think of the colored man now?”

“A great orator, a great orator — the son of some great Virginia orator,” was his reply.

– W.S. Kerruish, Esq.


SOURCE:

The local history book out of Ohio which contains this anecdote is in safe care of Grandma, a versatile Douglassonian with active membership in:

Monroe County (NY) Douglassonians
Port Cities Douglassonians
SBA House Douglassonians
Rummage Sale Douglassonians
Elderhostel Douglassonians

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Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass & Higher Education: University of Rochester Edition, Pt. 4 [Letter, June 1879, from Frederick Douglass thanking citizens and friends of Rochester, President of University of Rochester for installing marble bust in Sibley Hall]

statue of Frederick Douglass in a glass case on the library staircase as people walk past

Marble bust of headstrong Dr. Douglass was dedicated and placed in Sibley Hall on the University’s original Prince Street campus in 1879 without his advance knowledge. In recent years Dr. Douglass, a friend of U of R from its founding until his death, was moved to the stairway landing in the Great Hall of Rush Rhees Library. Photo University of Rochester.

When the University of Rochester unveiled the long anticipated marble bust of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass by local artist Johnson Mundy on its campus in June 1879 the man being celebrated was not in attendance.

To recognize the University of Rochester, President Anderson and his friends and associates in Rochester who had commissioned the work and organized the effort Douglass sent a timely letter to confidant Samuel Porter.

(Douglass also sent a subsequent March 1880 letter, recently acquired by U of R, thanking Mundy for the “fullness and a completeness” of his work.)

The below article and letter from Dr. Douglass was contemporaneously published by the Democrat and Chronicle and re-printed by fellow Rochester newspapers.

Additionally, Douglass thought the statue consequential and important enough to mention in Life and Times.

—–

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

It will be remembered that a bust of Frederick Douglass was recently placed in Sibley Hall, of the University of Rochester. The ceremonies were quite informal – too informal, we think, as commemorating a deserved tribute from the people of Rochester to one who will always ranks as among her most distinguished citizen. Mr. Douglass himself was not notified officially of the event and therefore could in no public manner take notice of it. He was, however, informed privately of it, and responded most happily, as will be seen by the following letter which we are permitted to publish: –

Washington, D.C., June 25, 1879

SAMUEL D. PORTER, ESQ.

My dear Sir, – I am extremely obliged to you for your kind and timely letter which came this morning, for it was a relief from a real cause of embarrassment.

When I first read of the formal unveiling and the presentation of my bust to the city of Rochester, the speeches made on the occasion by imminent gentlemen, – notably the remarks of Dr. Anderson, the honored President of Rochester University, an institution which has done so much to make the name of the city illustrious, – I felt an almost irrepressible impulse to do or say something out of the common way to some one of my old friends and fellow-citizens, which should express however crudely, something of the grateful sentiment stirred in my breast by this distinguished honor.

But as no one of the respected gentlemen active in the procurement of the testimonial said anything to me about it, and treated me as if I were out of the world, as all men should be when they are once reduced to marble, I began at last to think that silence on my part was perhaps the best way to the properties of the occasion.

Now, however, I am relieved. You have made it easy for me to speak to express my earnest acknowledgements to the committee of the gentlemen having this matter in charge and who have conducted it to completion.

Incidents of this character in my life do much amaze me. It is not, however, the height to which I have risen, but the depth from which I have come, that most amazes me.

It seems only a little while ago, when a child, I might have been fighting with old “Nep,” my mother’s dog, for a small share of the few crumbs that fell from the kitchen table; when I slept on the hearth, covering my feet from the cold with warm ashes and my head with a corn bag; only a little while ago, dragged to prison to be sold to the highest bidder, exposed for sale like a beast of burden; later on, put out to live with Covey, the negro breaker; beaten and almost broken in spirit, having little hope either for myself or my race; yet here I am alive and active, and with my race, enjoying citizenship in the freest and prospectively the most powerful nation on the globe.

In addition to this, you and your friends, while I am yet alive have thought it worth while to preserve my features in marble and to place them in your most honored institution of learning, to be viewed by present and future generations of men.

I know not, my friend, how to thank you, for this distinguished honor.

My attachment to Rochester, my home for more than a quarter of a century, will endure with my life.

Very gratefully and truly yours,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

SOURCE:

“FREDERICK DOUGLASS,” June 28, 1879, Democrat and Chronicle, p. 2

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Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass & Higher Education: University of Rochester Edition, Pt. 3 [Rev. Dr. Heman Lincoln Wayland, college president, recalls introducing Douglass to “three presidents of American colleges,” specifically Dr. Martin B. Anderson of University of Rochester]

Address of Rev. Dr. H. L. WAYLAND,
Delivered at The Memorial Meeting,
Held at the Academy Of Music, Philadelphia, Pa.,
on Evening of April 15, 1895.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I cannot look upon the eminent citizen whose name is in every heart this evening, simply as a public man. To me, he was a valuable personal friend.

Forty-two years ago, while I was residing in Rochester, I made his acquaintance, and was captivated by his brilliant and admirable qualities. I had the opportunity of rendering him some slight service, which he, with characteristic generosity, estimated at far more than its real worth.

I had the honor of introducing him to three presidents of American colleges, a circumstance to which he often alluded with pleasure.

In 1854 he was invited to give the annual literary address before what was then Western Reserve College, at Hudson, Ohio, which has since been removed to Cleveland, and largely endowed, and which now bears the name of Adelbert College. It was the first time such an invitation had been given to him, or, I imagine, to any colored man. He naturally felt a good deal of hesitation. I urged him to accept the service. He did so, and, thinking that for a college occasion, something of a scientific turn would be demanded, he selected as his subject “The Claims of the Negro, Ethnologically Considered.”

When he had read what was within his reach on the subject, I asked permission of Dr. Martin B. Anderson, then president of the University of Rochester, an eminent and widely read student of ethnology, to bring Mr. Douglass to his house, that the latter might have the benefit of his great stores of information. The president kindly welcomed him, loaned him books, and afforded him the yet more invaluable inspiration of his personal encouragement.

The address went off well, although Mr. Douglass was fettered by the use of manuscript, to which he was unaccustomed, and probably was not unconscious of his academic audience. He subsequently expressed the opinion that he would nave done better to have spoken upon his great theme, and to have let himself out. One incident in regard to the address I recall. He quoted the opinion of some ethnologist, who claimed that the negro was radically differentiated from the other races, by his small, thin, weak voice. Mr. Douglass made no comment, but simply declaimed this extract from the author in a voice of thunder that made the rafters ring.

Old South Church Worcester Massachusetts

Courtesy of CardCow.com

Later I was living in Worcester, the heart of the Commonwealth, a community more true to liberty than any other city in America. I fully agree with the sentiments that I have heard uttered by Theodore Parker, that, if you tie a rope ten miles long to the steeple of the Old South Church in Worcester, and use it as a radius, you will include within that circle a higher average, intellectually and morally, than anywhere else on the earth.

Just after the crime of the Dred-Scott decision, I arranged a lecture for Mr. Douglass in the Worcester City Hall, and, for the first time in his history, he was introduced by the Mayor of the city, who presided.

U.S. Congressman William W. Rice

After the lecture, there was a little supper, at which, in addition to Mr. Douglass, the guest of honor, there were present John Brown of Ossawatamie, later of Harper’s Ferry; Hon. Eli Thayer, then Member of Congress; Hon. W. W. Rice, later Member of Congress; Hon. J. N. Walker, present Member of Congress, and other citizens.

Pardon me for these details, which I do not enter into from any personal motive, but simply to introduce an incident which took place twenty years later, while Mr. Douglass was Marshal of the District of Columbia. I called upon him in his office.

His son came into the room, and Mr. Douglass said, “My son, this is Mr. Wayland. Mr. Wayland was a friend to your father at a time when your father needed a friend very much.”

The recollection of these few words, touching in their simplicity, I prize greatly at this hour.

It would be very pleasant to spend the time which your courtesy allows me in eulogizing the virtues of Mr. Douglass. There is little need to speak of his eloquence. Coming upon the platform in a day when Curtis and Sumner and Phillips were speaking, he occupied no second place.

Forty years ago, John G. Palfrey, formerly a professor in Harvard University, from his place in the popular branch of Congress, spoke of Mr. Douglass as speaking and writing the English language “in a manner of which any member might be proud.”

He had the qualifications of a great orator. Eloquence comes from the heart It is true of the orator, as of the poet:

“Men are cradled into poetry by wrong;
They learn in suffering, what they teach in song.”

In order to be eloquent, there must be a great cause, a great experience, a great agony. I can but think it a wonderful adjustment of Providence that in Mr. Douglass were united the burning experience, with the gift of speech. I seem to hear him now, as, looking back to the former condition of himself and those associated with him, he exclaimed, “Oh, the depth, the depth!”

The utterance of these words cost him twenty years of slavery and a half century of sympathy.

Along with his eloquence and his brilliancy, Mr. Douglass united a wisdom, a good sense, a good taste, that never allowed him to go astray. I recall no public man who has made fewer mistakes.

His wisdom, together with his mental independence, was illustrated by his relations to Mr. Garrison and others of the old abolition leaders. They held that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document; that it was, in their own often-quoted language (which I think was printed every week on the first page of the Liberator), “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” They refused to act under the Constitution.

They abjured the exercise of the franchise. They set at naught force and trusted only to moral appeal. But they did use words infinitely sharper than the sword. Mr. Douglass’ early associations were with these men, who are to be honored for their bravery and their fidelity. But in the course of time, with enlarging wisdom, he found himself differing from them, and he was forced to protest against their fundamental principle and against their methods and spirit. He declared that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document, and that it contained resources for the universal establishment of liberty.

Time passed. Under the forms of the Constitution, the great emancipator was elected. A President, constitutionally chosen, signed the Proclamation of Emancipation, and, through the armies of the United States, and under its flag, slavery was annihilated.

A striking feature in the character of Mr. Douglass was the absence of bitterness. He warred against a system, not against man. That was a very touching episode, his visit, late in life, to his old master, from whom, fifty years before, he had run away.

Mr. Douglass had a broad humanity. His sympathies were not confined to the advocacy of any single cause, or the championship of any single class or sex. His voice was enlisted for all who suffered wrong.

It would be pleasant to dwell at length upon the character of our honored friend. But I think we should do injustice to the occasion, if we did not draw from the life that has closed, one or two lessons.

Especially here is an example in inspiration, for the young. I do not know in all history a parallel. Here is a lad — born a slave, not merely a serf, of the same race and color of the master, and belonging to the soil; but bearing upon his brow the indelible problem of his servitude, and of the defenselessness of his mother; liable to be brought to the block at a moment’s notice; knowing law only by the burdens it imposed and the wrongs it inflicted. To teach him the five letters which spell the name of the Redeemer of mankind is a penal offence.

He has no property, no rights, no future. In childhood he sleeps on the floor, in a tow bag, which but partly covers him. He wears by day a single tow garment, and he picks out of the dust the grains of corn which the chickens have left.

You heard him say, not long ago, in this city: “The slave looked at his body, and they told him it belonged to his master; and they told him that his soul belonged to God, and so he had nothing.”

He bore on his own body the marks of the lash, and could not have protected his own sister, his own mother, his own wife, from the vilest profanation. Robbed of everything else, he has a soul, a will, a mind; he has a sense of right and wrong, he has something in him, which, like the magnetic needle, eagerly quivers toward the North, and he dreams of the polar star.

After he had made his way to a land where slavery was forbidden, he was yet under the ban. White workmen would not labor by his side; in the steamboat, in the cars, in the place of amusement, not seldom in the house of worship, be saw or heard or felt the words, “No niggers allowed here!”

This was the man who, later, was the friend of Lincoln, and of Grant and of Sumner; who was chosen elector-at-large for the Empire State; who repeatedly sailed upon national ships, sent upon errands of honor by the nation; who ranked among the authors and orators of America; who was a welcome guest in many of the oldest and proudest homes of Great Britain and of Europe; who, but the other day, was borne to his grave amid universal reverence; whose body lay in state in the city of Rochester, where for a score of years he had resided. The story of his youth, of his manhood, of his age, unite in saying to every young man: “Nothing is impossible to him who wills.” “Would you be held in honor? Make yourself worthy of honor!”

And out of this life, there grows a lesson for every one of us.

We shall have conflicts, obstacles, enemies; and the higher our aims, the more generous our purposes, so much the more formidable the adversaries. We have to contend against the saloon, against the gambling-hell, against the spoils system, against the fraudulent vote, against ignorance, against superstition, against oppression, against race prejudice, against the lynching mob. Not seldom the conflict seems difficult, and success is invisible.

We look at his history; we see the changes and the conquests which were compassed by the duration of a single life; we see the system of slavery, which for generations ruled the country absolutely, and which seemed more enduring than Gibraltar, now a dishonored fact in ancient history. We see an army of dark-hued children going daily to their schools.

We see the colored adorning almost every station and every profession, and we realize that despair, that doubt, is a crime, which not humanity, and hardly God, can forgive.

Editor’s Note:

Rev. Dr. H. L. Wayland served for a time as professor and college president. His father was the 4th President of Brown University and his brother was the Dean of Yale Law School.

SOURCE:

Research …

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Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass & Higher Education: University of Rochester Edition, Pt. 2 [Frederick Douglass to Rev. M.B. Anderson, D.D, President of University of Rochester, discussing potential lecture at Bucknell University, Nov. 23, 1868, Rochester, NY]

Autograph letter signed Frederick Douglass to_ Rev. M.B. Anderson-page-002

“Autograph letter signed Frederick Douglass to: Rev. M.B. Anderson, D.D, November 23, 1868, Rochester, NY”
Wellesley College Special Collections.

Dr. Frederick Douglass did not run with a monolith of radicals.

He ran with them all, my fellow Douglassonians, from radical booksellers in Fells Point to radical abolitionists on the anti-slavery lecture circuit to radical Republicans, such as Congressman Robert Smalls, representing the first generation of national black legislators.

Dr. Douglass ran with radical clergy, radical journalists, radical suffragists, radical black nationalists, radical labor organizers, an international circle of radical educators to name just a handful of the thoroughgoing cyphers of militant thought and action the fugitive slave-scholar stepped through to.

Never having attended a day of school in his life, Dr. Douglass self-directed his education under the shade tree in the country and in muddy back-alley streets.

I question the sincerity and genuineness of institutions of higher learning seeking to confer awards on Dr. Douglass without an accurate accounting of his lifelong relationship with radical educators and the university for a half-century.

I kindly advise University of Rochester NOT follow the same tone-deaf path Washington College took honoring Dr. Douglass and failing to address his longstanding relationship with higher education.

This is a polite word that for W Street Douglassonians it matters not Yale, Harvard, Maryland State Archives, Maryland Historical Society, Washington College or University of Rochester.

The era of playtime honorifics for Dr. Douglass is over. Speak on Douglass and Higher Education. Let it be known. Once. And. For. All. Times.

Rochester, Nov. 23, 1868.

My dear sir:

I am just home from Boston and am obliged by your note of the 18th. I will write to Pres. Loomis to day and give him a date when I can deliver a lecture in Lewisburg.

I receive many invitations, some from responsible [indecipherable] and others not – and I feel more secure from imposition when I have assurances as you gave me of your friend Dr. Loomis.

Truly yours with gr [sic] respect

Frederick Douglass

Rev. M. B. Anderson, D.D.
Pres. Rochester University

*Emancipated slave
and orator & editor.

*Archivist / Librarian notation.

SOURCE:

Original letter here.

 

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