Frederick Douglass biographer traces the rise of a legendary abolitionist and orator : NPR




DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

That is FRESH AIR. I am Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. This week, HBO premiered a brand new documentary about Nineteenth-century abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass. It options a number of distinguished actors studying from Douglass’ speeches and his autobiographies. This is actress Nicole Beharie studying from Douglass’s 1852 speech, “What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?”

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “FREDERICK DOUGLASS: IN FIVE SPEECHES”)

NICOLE BEHARIE: (Studying) What do I or these I signify should do together with your nationwide independence? Are the good rules of political freedom and pure justice embodied in that declaration prolonged to us? What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I reply a day that reveals to him greater than another days of the yr the gross injustice and cruelty to which he’s the fixed sufferer. To him, your celebration is a sham, your nationwide greatness swelling self-importance. Your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless, your shouts of liberty and equality hole mock. The existence of slavery on this nation manufacturers your humanity as base pretense and your Christianity as a lie.

DAVIES: The documentary, titled “Frederick Douglass: In 5 Speeches,” is impressed by historian David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Douglass. Right this moment, we’ll take heed to a few of my 2018 interview with Blight, who’s a professor of historical past at Yale. Blight’s e book offers with Douglass’s autobiographies, which describe his escape from slavery to freedom, however it additionally illuminates much less well-known components of Douglass’s lengthy and noteworthy life – his break with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, his sophisticated private life, his assist for and bitter feud with leaders of the ladies’s suffrage motion and his years as a Republican Get together functionary when he took patronage jobs within the authorities. Douglass was a robust orator, and Blight says probably the most photographed individual of the Nineteenth century. Blight’s e book is “Frederick Douglass: Prophet Of Freedom.”

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DAVIES: Effectively, David Blight, welcome again to FRESH AIR. Inform us about Frederick Douglass’s formative years. The place was he born? What was his life like as a slave?

DAVID BLIGHT: Effectively, first, thanks, Dave. It is nice to be again on FRESH AIR. Frederick Douglass was born alongside a horseshoe bend within the Tuckahoe River on the Japanese Shore of Maryland in 1818. It is a – form of a distant backwater at that time of the American slave society. He was born on the Holme Hill Farm, which was owned by his then-master, Aaron Anthony. His mom was a nonetheless younger lady named Harriet Bailey. He was most likely born in his grandmother Betsy Bailey’s cabin, though we do not know for certain, and he by no means will know precisely who his father was, though one candidate is Aaron Anthony himself. Douglas was at all times advised that his father was his grasp or considered one of his masters.

So one of many details of his youth that everybody ought to know is that he was, in essence, an orphan. He by no means knew his father, and he by no means noticed his mom after the age of 6, and he needed to virtually invent photos of her. He had little or no reminiscence of her. In order a toddler, he is basically – not altogether deserted, however he is left with out dad and mom. After which he grows up, for 20 years, as a slave – about 11 of them on the Japanese Shore and about 9 of these years in Baltimore, which, in reality, the town has every thing to do with the truth that he would ever have the ability to escape.

DAVIES: Proper. In Baltimore, he lived amongst some – numerous freed Black males – proper? – and girls.

BLIGHT: That is proper. That is proper. Baltimore was an important ocean port and an important shipbuilding metropolis. And when – within the yr he escaped, 1838, Baltimore had about 130,000 individuals. It was an enormous ocean port metropolis. It solely had about 3,000 slaves, however it had about 17,000 free blacks. It was a really giant, very energetic, energetic, free Black neighborhood, and he grows up amidst them as effectively, particularly amidst them. And it is there that he would have met Anna Murray, who grew to become his first spouse, most likely when he was 18 or 19. He acquired concerned in three or 4 totally different church buildings. He was concerned in a debating society. And he had a relative freedom of motion throughout the metropolis in its confines. However he additionally had this visible and emotional and imaginative window on the world with the ocean port, with all the good ships that will come out and in of Baltimore Harbor. And it is there that he found his literacy and his eventual genius with phrases and language. It is there the place he first started to domesticate his talents as an orator and even most likely his talents as a author.

DAVIES: Proper. He was lucky in that Sophia Auld, who was the spouse of his then-owner, began educating him the alphabet, and he constructed on that and discovered to learn form of in an enterprising method with different sources. How did he…

BLIGHT: Sure.

DAVIES: …Come to flee? Cannot have been simple.

BLIGHT: No, it wasn’t simple. It was a courageous plan. He hatched it with Anna, his fiance on the time, in addition to a number of different individuals, clearly, who had been in on the planning. He acquired on a prepare in late August 1838. And by three prepare rides and three boat rides throughout rivers, he ended up in New York Metropolis in about 38 hours on the base of Chambers Avenue, proper down within the Decrease Manhattan on the Hudson River aspect. It was a unprecedented escape by means of what one would possibly name the Underground Railroad, however he did this basically all on his personal, with Anna’s assist.

DAVIES: They made their option to Massachusetts. Was it New Bedford? Do I’ve that proper?

BLIGHT: Sure.

DAVIES: OK.

BLIGHT: Sure.

DAVIES: After which…

BLIGHT: The whaling city.

DAVIES: Proper. He works and finally ends up changing into fairly an orator at an early age. How did that occur?

BLIGHT: Effectively, he’d already practiced oratory even whereas he was a slave, and it gave the younger Douglass, {the teenager}, a supply of energy, a supply of one thing he was good at. He was good at getting on his ft and simply making an attempt to talk. Now, he wasn’t well-formed but by any means, however when he will get to New Bedford, he is 21, 22 and 23 years outdated. They lived there three years. He labored down within the docks. He labored in a foundry. He did all types of strange jobs, however he in a short time joined the native AME Zion Church, a Black church, and inside a yr or so, that they had him preaching. They stated, this child can preach. Put him up entrance. And he then learns to evangelise from the textual content, which is, after all, the Protestant custom.

And it is there in that AME Zion Church, in addition to a pair public conferences, the place he will get found, so to talk, by the Massachusetts abolitionists who’re disciples of William Lloyd Garrison. And within the late summer season of 1841, they invited this very younger man – he is 23 years outdated – out to Nantucket, to an enormous antislavery conference. And it was there within the athenaeum on Nantucket, the place he gave his first speech to a roomful of abolitionists, a roomful of white individuals. In essence, he acquired up and advised a few of his tales about his youth, about being a slave, and he was successful, an enormous hit. And so they employed him to then exit on the street as an itinerant lecturer throughout New England at first and finally, inside a yr or two, all throughout the Northern states.

DAVIES: He finally turns into and establishes a number of newspapers and, for the following 20 years, turns into an activist.

BLIGHT: Sure, for abolition. He started with – a pacifist as Garrison was. How did Frederick Douglass’ views concerning the means to abolish slavery evolve between then and the Civil Battle?

BLIGHT: Sure, that is an enchanting facet of his life as a result of he undergoes a form of ideological, strategic, even mental transformation within the late 1840s, early 1850s. I believe it is the primary nice transformation of his public life. He additionally had fairly a breakdown on this interval. He might barely make ends meet for his household. He is making an attempt to be the self-made man who couldn’t present.

However he embraced, for instance, issues just like the potential makes use of of violence. And that is within the wake, one should know, of the Fugitive Slave Act, which radicalized lots of people. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made everybody complicitous with returning fugitive slaves to their homeowners in the event that they may very well be discovered. And by the – by 1851, 1852, Douglass is writing editorials with strains reminiscent of, why do slave catchers worry having their throats minimize? It is as a result of they need to have them minimize.

He additionally embraced political events vehemently. He got here to see that if you happen to do not assault the regulation and you do not discover a option to change the ability on the base of slavery, you’ll by no means destroy it. So he is transferring – not solely transferring away from Garrison, he is transferring full drive into the politics of anti-slavery. It is not going to be a easy trip by any means by means of the 1850s. However by ’51 and ’52, he is develop into a thoroughgoing political abolitionist, believing in political events, believing in political activism.

And I additionally ought to say right here that this second when he does have an actual emotional breakdown, he spent days at a time bedridden, even with paralytic limbs, he stated. And he could not even work on the newspaper. It is also a interval by which he wrote a few of his best works, which has most likely been true of plenty of nice writers. However it’s actually true of Douglass.

DAVIES: As he turns into a celebrated writer and speaker, he has a spouse, Anna, who…

BLIGHT: Yeah.

DAVIES: …By no means learns to learn and write, proper? And what was that relationship like so far as…

BLIGHT: Effectively, over time, it grew to become very tough. One must be sincere about it. The person who turns into probably the most well-known African American author, orator, mental on this planet was married to a girl who remained largely illiterate. She didn’t share his mental life or his skilled life. Anna nearly by no means traveled with him, and he traveled on a regular basis as an itinerant orator. So it grew to become, with time, a really conventional marriage.

Anna ran the home. She was a superb, home lady. However as a wedding by which he might share his mental curiosity and large ambition, that was not that form of marriage. Douglass by no means wrote a lot of something about Anna in his 1,200 pages of autobiography. There’s one point out of his spouse, Anna, and he or she’s referred to as my spouse. He additionally did not write a lot about his youngsters, not less than within the autobiographies. We have now numerous letters the place we will get at these relationships. However Douglass didn’t talk about his extra private standing in his life in his many, many pages of autobiography.

DAVIES: Historian David Blight, recorded in 2018. His Pulitzer Prize-winning e book is “Frederick Douglass: Prophet Of Freedom.” We’ll hear extra after a break. That is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RHIANNON GIDDENS SONG, “AT THE PURCHASER’S OPTION”)

DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR, and we’re listening to my 2008 interview with historian David Blight. This week, HBO premiered a brand new documentary about Frederick Douglass, impressed by Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet Of Freedom.”

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DAVIES: He would proceed to be an important orator all through his profession. He lived till the age of 77. We have now no recordings of Frederick Douglass. I think about…

BLIGHT: No.

DAVIES: In all of the years you spent engaged on this, it’s essential to have wished you possibly can have heard him. Do you will have an concept in your head of what he may need gave the impression of?

BLIGHT: Effectively, we all know so much about what he gave the impression of from the way in which individuals described him. He had a deep baritone, we’re advised. He might modulate it numerous alternative ways. There are lots of, many written descriptions. I’ve plenty of clippings from native newspapers across the nation of individuals describing the primary time they noticed Douglass or heard Douglass, what he gave the impression of, what he appeared like. So we all know a good quantity about it, however we additionally know so much concerning the nature of his rhetoric simply from studying it.

He was terrific at this craft of beginning out a speech slowly, calmly, you recognize, restfully, drawing an viewers into some form of scenario however nothing flamboyant about it, however then slowly, however certainly, working towards some form of decision, some form of level, some form of argument, some form of ethical message, after which typically in that final a part of his speech, reaching these exuberant crescendos that will simply come out of him in shouts or in roars, individuals would say. He had that means of efficiency. And he gained that by the straightforward, you recognize, energy of repetition.

However he had a performative method of delivering his oratory that individuals simply flocked to see. In reality, I say within the e book at one level that seeing and listening to Douglass grew to become, by means of the course of the Nineteenth century, a form of American surprise of the world. In the event you got here to America, you wished to see Douglass communicate if you happen to might. It was that form of an occasion.

DAVIES: Douglass watched the crises over slavery construct in the direction of the Civil Battle. He was ready to see a conflict with the intention to see slavery ended. What was his perspective in the direction of Abraham Lincoln? Did they’ve a relationship?

BLIGHT: Douglass did have a relationship with Lincoln however not till the conflict years. Douglass first grew to become conscious of Lincoln through the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He adopted it within the newspapers. And Douglass was even out in Illinois throughout one or two of the debates.

DAVIES: And we must always word this isn’t (laughter) Lincoln versus Frederick Douglass, however Stephen Douglas.

BLIGHT: No, no, no. Sorry. Stephen Douglas, yeah…

DAVIES: Proper.

BLIGHT: …For the Senate race in 1858. He grew to become intrigued with Lincoln then. And naturally, two years later, Lincoln runs for president. However their relationship was very testy at first. Douglass was considered one of Lincoln’s most ferocious critics within the first yr or yr and a half of the conflict as a result of the conflict wasn’t being made towards slavery. And so they had been even making an attempt to return fugitive slaves. So earlier than they ever met, Douglass had stated among the harshest issues any critic of Lincoln had ever stated.

DAVIES: However issues modified over the course of the conflict? I suppose…

BLIGHT: They did.

DAVIES: …The Emancipation Proclamation was most likely important there.

BLIGHT: It was completely important. Into 1862, Douglass was nonetheless hammering away at Lincoln. At one level, he referred to as him probably the most highly effective slave catcher within the nation. However after the preliminary proclamation, September ’62, and naturally the ultimate proclamation, January of ’63, Douglass’ tune on Lincoln tremendously modified. After which particularly with the recruiting of Black troopers within the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation – and Douglass acquired deeply concerned personally in recruiting members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Two of his personal sons had been members of that regiment.

He slowly however certainly adjustments his tune about Lincoln. He involves see the conflict now as a campaign led by Lincoln and the Republicans to not solely save the Union however do it by destroying slavery. And he would – in every single place he acquired an opportunity to say it, he would say, freedom to the slave is freedom to the nation. Freedom to the slave is the preservation of the Union.

DAVIES: You understand, when he was a younger abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, like William Lloyd Garrison, did not assume the U.S. Structure may very well be used to grant true equality. He got here to treat it in a different way and noticed the Civil Battle as an opportunity for, in a method, a second American revolution. And naturally, the query was whether or not the slaves within the South would actually be given the rights of citizenship. And in 1866, he leads a delegation of blacks to fulfill with Andrew Johnson, who was the – who had develop into president after Lincoln’s assassination, himself basically a white supremacist. What occurs at this assembly?

BLIGHT: It is a unprecedented assembly. And it is a debacle. Douglass leads his delegation February 1866 of about 12 Black males to the White Home to fulfill with Johnson to speak to him about Black civil and political rights, as a result of at that time, the character of the reconstruction legal guidelines and the soon-to-be 14th Modification was all up within the air. The debates had been simply starting to occur in Congress, and there was Andrew Johnson, seemingly standing in the way in which of all of it. And did he ever. They’d a bitter and horrible trade that lasted nearly an hour.

Andrew Johnson gave a speech to this delegation that Douglass led, a bitter speech. He blamed Black individuals for the conflict. He advised them they need to actually colonize themselves exterior of the nation; they need to actually depart, that political rights, particularly the best to vote, was simply by no means actually going to be potential. And when Douglass tried at instances to interrupt or interject, Johnson would inform him to be quiet and simply hear. And so they had been compelled principally to hear.

Douglass lastly, towards the tip of this assembly, acquired in a number of strains and some questions. He demanded the best to vote. He stated the best to vote for Black individuals is final peace and freedom to the entire nation. However as they had been leaving, Andrew Johnson was overheard saying – and it was recorded even within the newspaper – that Douglass, he is similar to each different N-word I’ve ever identified; he’ll as quickly minimize your throat as something. And Douglass overheard that. That is the president of the US.

Douglass then went again. And along with his older son, Lewis, who was at this assembly, they wrote a form of a manifesto letter that was printed denouncing Andrew Johnson and protesting. However most significantly, Douglass did what he at all times did. He went to his desk, and he wrote a barnburner of a speech. He referred to as it “The Perils To The Republic.” It was like – it was a speech of warning, you recognize, that Andrew Johnson stands in the way in which right here of the fruition of the victories of the Civil Battle.

And he took that speech on the street in the summertime of 1866. He is nonetheless giving it in 1867. And it has so many fashionable echoes right now, particularly the road the place he says, it’s all effectively and good. Our Structure and our legal guidelines are all effectively and good when man is president, however what can we do with our legal guidelines and our Structure when a foul man is president? He was, after all, referring to Andrew Johnson.

However that is – what’s fascinating about that encounter is that it is at this second of revolutionary change. And all issues appeared potential about Reconstruction within the South and within the Structure if it may be enacted, if it may be executed over the veto energy of the president. However it’s fairly an encounter, and there is actually by no means been one other assembly fairly as unhealthy (laughter) between another president and a delegation of Black leaders.

DAVIES: Historian David Blight recorded in 2018. His Pulitzer Prize-winning e book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet Of Freedom,” impressed a brand new HBO documentary, which premiered this week. The movie, which options a number of actors studying from Douglass’ writings, is titled “Frederick Douglass: In 5 Speeches.” We’ll hear extra of my interview with David Blight after this brief break. I am Dave Davies, and that is FRESH AIR.

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DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR. I am Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. This week, HBO premiered a brand new documentary concerning the Nineteenth century abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass. Titled “Frederick Douglass: In 5 Speeches,” it options a number of distinguished actors studying from Douglass’ writings. The documentary was impressed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Douglass by Yale historian David Blight. We’re listening to my 2018 interview with Blight. His e book is “Frederick Douglass: Prophet Of Freedom.”

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DAVIES: Frederick Douglass is called an actual champion of girls’s suffrage. I believe he was the…

BLIGHT: Yeah.

DAVIES: Solely male speaker on the Seneca Falls assembly in 1848, proper?

BLIGHT: Sure. He is the one male speaker. He wasn’t the one male signer of the Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls, however he was the one Black individual even attending it.

DAVIES: Proper.

BLIGHT: He embraced girls’s suffrage early and sometimes…

DAVIES: And…

BLIGHT: …Besides he acquired into an enormous drawback later (laughter).

DAVIES: Effectively, that is what I wished to get to.

BLIGHT: (Laughter) Proper.

DAVIES: He befriended Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and ultimately that they had a falling-out. It was over precept.

BLIGHT: Sure.

DAVIES: What occurred?

BLIGHT: Effectively, there have been competing rules, after all. When it got here time for the fifteenth Modification, the voting rights modification that handed in 1869, Douglass had a horrible falling-out with Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who’re the – and others however they had been the 2 nice leaders of the ladies’s suffrage motion. And the entire debate was basically about whether or not girls could be included within the voting rights modification, and so they weren’t. And the rationale, after all, was that everybody with one eye open knew that if you happen to put girls’s suffrage into that modification, it by no means would have handed first the Congress and positively would not have handed within the state legislatures. So Douglass took the place that, as he put it, it was the Black man’s hour. And this was the one likelihood to get the best to vote for Black males and that, for now, girls must as soon as once more wait.

Effectively, Stanton and Anthony had been – had run out of endurance. They weren’t going to attend any longer. However the issue was they’ve pushed again and fought again with racist language, terribly racist language towards Douglass and towards Black males usually. And Douglass dealt with most of that as a gentleman with grace, besides he additionally threw about some reasonably stereotypical claims. For instance, he stated, effectively, educated girls can nonetheless have their husbands voting, and their husbands can vote their curiosity, which rings fairly badly on our ears right now. However it was a kind of moments once you needed to make selections. And he took the selection of favoring the fifteenth Modification ‘trigger it acquired not less than Black male suffrage into the Structure.

DAVIES: You understand, he was – grew to become dedicated to the Republican Get together. And some of the attention-grabbing issues, I believe, concerning the final half of your e book is we see Frederick Douglass develop into a political insider. I imply, this…

BLIGHT: Proper.

DAVIES: …Man who was a radical outsider, he will get patronage jobs. And the attention-grabbing factor is that as he embraces the Republican Get together within the final half of the Nineteenth century, it’s a occasion that has basically deserted, you recognize…

BLIGHT: Sure.

DAVIES: …The hassle to grant Blacks actual citizenship within the South. It’s changing into more and more the occasion of huge enterprise.

BLIGHT: Proper.

DAVIES: You understand, it is tariffs. It is free commerce. It is anti-labor unions.

BLIGHT: Proper. Proper.

DAVIES: Does he go along with all of that?

BLIGHT: He goes together with it. He by no means offers up on the Republican Get together. It will probably appear to be a tough factor to clarify. However his traditional clarification was he had nowhere else to go politically. He used to say, you recognize, the Republican Get together is the ship and all else is the ocean. There was no different political house for Blacks. The issue was the Republican Get together, as you say, strikes away from enforcement of the Reconstruction Act, strikes away from the Southern drawback, strikes away from enforcement of Black voting rights and civil rights and even strikes away from enforcement towards terrorist teams, for God’s sake. It is a tough factor for him, and he does levy some fairly brutal criticisms of the Republican Get together over time, however it’s from throughout the occasion. He at all times campaigned for the Republican candidate. He at all times stated it’s nonetheless the occasion of emancipation. It’s nonetheless the occasion that saved the Union, and it should by some means discover its method again to its creeds, even when it was fairly clear it was not. And this was, as I stated, one of many disputes he has with a brand new era of Black management who was asking, ought to they continue to be loyal to a celebration that now not actually speaks for his or her curiosity?

DAVIES: In 1877, after this – effectively, within the later years of a really lengthy and distinguished profession at which he’s a really well-known and revered orator and author, he goes to Maryland and tracks down his former grasp, Thomas Auld.

BLIGHT: Proper.

DAVIES: What do we all know of this assembly?

BLIGHT: It is an incredible assembly. Thomas Auld, Douglass believed, was on his deathbed. He turned out to not die for roughly one other yr. However he went again to St. Michael’s in – on the Japanese Shore, the very city by which Auld had held him as a teenage slave and overwhelmed him, by the way in which, after which rented him out to different, you recognize, slaveholders at instances as a subject hand. However he went again, he met Auld with nice publicity. He had press in tow. We have now quite a few, you recognize, press studies of this, which is how we all know a good quantity about it. And he went to Auld’s mattress, and so they met for about 20 or 25 minutes. Douglass tells us they each shed tears. It was a form of a gathering of epics in years. By then, Auld, after all, knew how well-known Douglass was. However Douglass fairly straight seems to have requested Auld, are you my father? – or in a roundabout way he requested him. He is looking for out his delivery, his paternity, his roots and so forth. However Auld didn’t say, sure, I am your father. Perhaps he could not. I do not know. My very own guess is that Auld might be not his father, however that is a pure guess – educated guess, I suppose.

DAVIES: And did they discuss their relationship of possession in bondage?

BLIGHT: They did, to a point, in line with Douglass, who’s our – he is his personal eyewitness for this, you must bear in mind. Yeah, they did. And I believe Douglass additionally introduced up the truth that he had befriended Auld’s youngsters, his daughter and son, simply to attempt to perceive most likely whether or not they had been truly kin. However much more importantly on that go to, Douglass went over to Easton, Md., the place he gave an unbelievable speech in an outdated Black church. After which he went out to the Tuckahoe River to the Horseshoe Bend on a chilly November day, dug his palms down within the soil the place he believed his grandmother, Betsy’s, cabin would have stood making an attempt to see if he might perceive, the place in his creativeness he might discover his mom in that soil, the place he might discover his grandmother in that soil, how he might even perceive who he was. And most significantly, he was at all times making an attempt to know, how might a slave boy from that spot develop into who he grew to become? How might a child as a slave from that aspect of the Chesapeake, cross the Chesapeake and develop into this world-class orator, author and thinker and even statesman? He was at all times making an attempt to even grasp and perceive his personal story as he saved telling it.

DAVIES: In a speech in 1875, he acquired numerous consideration when he appeared to form of condemn some charitable efforts aimed toward Blacks and form of embraced the thought of Black self-reliance. And that is one thing which causes modern-day conservatives and even libertarians to assert him as considered one of their very own. What was his view?

BLIGHT: Effectively, he early and sometimes favored self-reliance for his fellow Black individuals. Nearly all Black leaders within the Nineteenth century preached a form of self-reliance. What else might they do in a society that both enslaved them, segregated them, outlined them out of the Structure and afterward, after all, even used terror to get rid of them? So self-reliance was a matter of inevitable necessity in some methods. However what fashionable conservatives, as you stated, particularly the libertarians have executed, is that they’ve plucked out a speech from 1875, however many others too earlier than that and after that, the place Douglass would reply the query, what does the Negro need? Which was at all times bandied about. And his reply could be, let him alone. Depart him alone. Let him alone.

And he would say, give him truthful play, which meant implement the regulation, implement his or her rights, do not kill them after they’re making an attempt to vote and so forth. However what fashionable conservatives have executed is that they plucked out items of rhetoric right here and there, and so they’ve stated, a-ha, you see? Douglass was not solely a Republican, however he believed in individualism and self-reliance and self-help, which meant he did not advocate for presidency help and so forth.

I’ve to say it is a horrible misuse and appropriation of Douglass as a result of it ignores, I’d argue, 80% or 90% p.c of the remainder of his concepts and the remainder of his life. He was not anti-government within the least. He believed in activist, interventionist use of federal energy to destroy slavery, to destroy the Confederacy and to reconceive the U.S. Structure. However it’s what we do with historic figures. However it’s usually a reasonably slippery misuse of the previous. He did preach self-reliance. There is no query about that. However you must return into that context and perceive why.

DAVIES: David Blight, thanks a lot for talking with us.

BLIGHT: My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Dave.

DAVIES: Historian David Blight recorded in 2018 his Pulitzer Prize successful e book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet Of Freedom,” impressed a brand new HBO documentary about Douglass which premiered this week. It is titled “Frederick Douglass: In 5 Speeches.” Developing, we bear in mind doctor and public well being advocate Paul Farmer, who died Monday. That is FRESH AIR.

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