By Stacy M. Swimp
Frederick Douglass. Founding Father of Freedom. Orator. Author. Statesman. He was the first Black American to have an open door policy granted to him by the President of the United States (Abraham Lincoln). He remains a shining example of the power of abiding in love, faith, and hope, for in this determination, he went from being a slave to becoming an American hero and a model for the ages.
Douglass was illiterate up to the age of eight, when, while in Baltimore, MD, he was exposed to abolitionists. Douglass would later say: “Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity” (Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass). It is there that he began learning to read.
Douglass recorded that, after years in bondage, he had finally and reasonably become “broken in body, soul, and spirit.” (My Bondage, My Freedom, by Frederick Douglass, 1855). He escaped chattel slavery in 1838. He found his way to New York, where he changed his name to Frederick Douglass and began attending abolitionists’ meeting. He also subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly journal, the Liberator, which would have a life altering impact on Douglass.
In 1841, Douglass attended an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts. There he met Garrison, who would become a mentor to Douglass for the next decade. Garrison, after hearing the brilliance and eloquence of Douglass, employed him as an abolitionist speaker for the American Antislavery Society. For three years, Douglass toured England, Ireland, and Scotland, speaking on behalf of the aforementioned Society. Upon his return, Douglass published the first issue of the North Star, a four-page weekly, out of Rochester, New York.
In 1851, Douglass announced at a meeting in Syracuse, New York, that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document, and that it could even “be wielded in behalf of emancipation,” especially where the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction. This brought him into direct confrontation with his mentor, Garrison, who had previously taught Douglass that the Constitution was a pro slavery document. Douglass realized that Garrison’s views were not in the best interest of America. Garrison would become one of Douglass’ most outspoken public critics in response to Douglass’ new found views on the constitution. The two men never reconciled.
In 1854, a new political movement took shape in the north, led by abolitionists and ex-Whigs. This movement culminated into the founding of the Republican Party. Frederick Douglass would ultimately become a champion for the Republican Party, declaring: “I am a Republican, a Black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.”
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was the candidate for the Republican Party. Initially uncertain about Abraham Lincoln, Douglass supported Lincoln. When Lincoln won the election and gave his inauguration speech, he promised to uphold the fugitive slave laws and not interfere with slavery in the states where it was already established. His first priority was to restore the Union. Not to end slavery. Douglass felt betrayed.
Frederick Douglass continued to press President Lincoln to be true to his values. Douglass knew Lincoln was opposed to slavery. As time went on, the two men became very close friends, challenging one another to rise above even their own personal expectations. During the civil war, Douglass was single handedly responsible for Abraham Lincoln’s change of heart, as the President was initially opposed to Blacks fighting in the union army. Two of Douglass’ sons served in the civil war. The war ended in 1865. Tragically, President Lincoln was assassinated five days after the official surrender of the Confederacy.
Frederick Douglass would go on to remain resolutely committed to freedom and progress. He was appointed minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti (1889–1891). In 1892, Douglass constructed rental housing for blacks, now known as Douglass Place in the Fells Point area of Baltimore.
Then, on February 20, 1895, America lost one of its best and brightest. Frederick Douglass went on to glory. Many today have little to no knowledge of the contributions of this American hero. In a society where we have a profound leadership vacuum, Frederick Douglass’ example is desperately needed.
The following are a few views Douglass held:
“People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”-45 years after Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society Utopia”, two generations of Americans are trapped in bondage. Today’s society has within it a welfare dependent culture. Thus, millions are yet in bondage to a mentality of entitlement. They, unlike Frederick Douglass, have yet to determine that personal responsibility and free enterprise is the only option. Moreover, many do not understand that freedom is not free.
Frederick Douglass advocated desegregation of schools. He fought for inclusion within the educational system. Today, many blacks naively cooperate with union agendas to restore, in principle and practice, separate but equal school districts, in that they oppose expanding choices in education.
“I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.”-Slavery is alive and well in America, via debt bondage, sex slavery and forced labor. It is called: “Human Trafficking”. It is a little known crisis in America that is being resisted by the great, great, great Grandson of Frederick Douglass, Kenneth Morris, Jr., who is indeed a model of Frederick Douglass’ brand of leadership (see: http://www.fdff.org/)
“To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” –Freedom loving Americans today face vicious and relentless attacks from progressives for exercising freedom of speech in resisting the liberal agenda to destroy the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life in America.. Additionally, American workers’ freedom of expression is oppressed by labor and teachers unions when workers opt out of union representation, refusing to support the political activities of unions. Douglass’ message clearly opposes these practices.
There are, unfortunately, far too few models of how to get from bondage to freedom today. Few leaders have the courage to go against popular culture to preserve the values which make our Republic great. That wasn’t Frederick Douglass’ weakness: “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” Frederick Douglass remains a model for the ages.