Frederick Douglass Today: 200 Years Later

200 years later, we can still absorb our tremendous, yet, tumultuous history, and the strength of one individual who’s name echoes in the halls of capitol buildings, schools, and universities. Frederick Douglass’ legacy will be celebrated by all as a man who lived to experience the transformational power of learning, and who defended the right for all to be free from ignorance.

By Monica Morrill l February 27, 2018

The Civil War supposedly emancipated the slaves in 1865, and yet many families kept birth records of their slaves up until 1870. Birth records were not uncommon in the South on slave-holding plantations and were helpful to blacks as well as the slave owners. Blacks were able to use these records to trace the genealogy of their ancestors. In many cases, these records were the only ways to find out about their forebears. Before the late 1800s, keeping a record of births and deaths of a property owner’s slaves was important because it had such an impact on the labor force they had, and the amount of work that they could expect to complete any given year.

Interestingly, Fredrick Douglass chose his birthdate – February 14, Valentine’s Day. This was because despite limited encounters with his mother, he fondly remembered that she called him, “my little Valentine.” It is believed he was born in 1818.

This February marks the 200th anniversary of Fredrick Douglass’ birth. It is important for America to embrace some national-introspection on how this man helped our nation to be a freer, more united country. When Douglass fought for his own freedom from slavery, he was also attacking the injustices to all Americans and simultaneously solidifying constitutional rights.

An American audience became transfixed on the words of Frederick Douglass as a prominent abolitionist because he lived his childhood and adolescent years as a slave. He distinguished himself as a man, who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and succeeded in sharing his wisdom and experience. Shedding some light on the significance of Douglass’ contributions are three autobiographies he wrote. Brief, fascinating reads: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845); My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881) or a compilation.

In a humble attempt to interest readers in Douglass’ life, it’s believed the greatest way to summarize his life is threefold: Douglass’ passion to read and educate himself, which transformed his identity from slave to freeman; his determination to achieve freedom from his slave master and indict the condition of slavery forever; and, his life’s dedication in striving to help all Americans recognize and respect our endowed path to freedom.

Douglass first had to free his mind and soul before he could free his body. Frederick Douglass was inspired to freedom when he learned to read, particularly the Bible. The first autobiography he wrote is entitled, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, and the introduction is called, “A Psalm of Freedom” as a mirror to the struggles King David surmounted in his life chronicled in the Old Testament. Over time, Douglass’ enlightenment after acquiring greater knowledge of American history reinforced the American political philosophy. Douglass wrote, “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.”

Douglass became a well-known and respected orator, author, and editor. He created and published a newspaper called the North Star, one of several publications, which was widely read by fellow abolitionists. The symbolism of the North Star was one of liberty to guide a slave escaping their slave owner to freedom. Slaves would use the North Star in the night sky to navigate their way to the North to safe territory.

Amidst a hot New York City summer, in July 1848, Douglass spoke to a group of five thousand blacks for the annual Odd Fellows event as he anguished over the lack of support for his newspaper, “Every colored man should ask himself the question, ‘what am I doing to elevate and improve my condition and that of my brethren at large?’…we, who are the most oppressed, are comparatively idle and indifferent about our welfare.”

Retired Army Major KCarl Smith, a black American, the President and CEO of LibertyMessenger USA is an expert who has studied Frederick Douglass’ life for fifteen years. KCarl Smith authored a book entitled, Frederick Douglass Republicans: The Movement to Re-Ignite America’s Passion for Liberty and said, “No one can out victimize Frederick Douglass. He was born below poverty because he didn’t even own his body, yet, he died in 1895 as the equivalent today as a multimillionaire, all through employing his educated mind.”

Mr. Smith diligently worked with the National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW) in 2012 to pass an adopted Resolution #3 entitled “Frederick Douglass’ Republican Values (FDRV): The Key to Winning Minorities” in 2013 at the 37th Biennial Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. The resolution states, among other things that, “Democrats have hidden their own sordid past with regard to their cruel and oppressive treatment of minorities,” and then the NFRW urges Republicans to revisit Republican history and “take immediate and positive steps to educate ourselves and others, particularly minorities and the Republican stand on civil rights for all.” The resolution was e-mailed to each state federation president asking them to disseminate it to all NFRW members to help people to “acquaint themselves with the Resolution and take the lead in following KCarl Smith’s Frederick Douglass Republican” engagement and messaging strategy for all Americans.

One of Frederick Douglass’ many lasting legacies is and will continue to be that he proved personally that American founding constitutional and free market principles are worth fighting for even before the end of slavery was achieved. Douglass recognized that the U.S. Declaration of Independence read, “We the People…” not We the White People, nor We the Men, nor We the Free People. “We the People” implied that the founding document foresaw, and foreshadowed a conflict of abolishing slavery, but pre-conditioned those in America to have the strength and protection to fight for their individual liberties endowed by the “God of Nature.”

Even when corresponding with elected officials Douglass’ passion for education shone through. The Library of Congress kindly shared a copy of Frederick Douglass’ letter from Washington, DC to my late relative, U.S. Senator Justin Morrill written January 4, 1880, which reads as follows:

Dear Sir,

Allow me to thank you for your very able, comprehensive and timely speech on the proposition to devote a part of the proceeds of the Public lands to educational purposes. I have read your speech carefully and with great satisfaction. You have grappled with a living issue and have mapped out of the true policy of the nation so plainly that the blindest may see it.

If our Government should place a school house at every cross road of the South and support teachers for each during the next fifty years it would hardly atone for the wrong done my people during their two hundred years of slavery and enforced ignorance. Having been a slave, I have learned the value of education in part from my own destitution of it.

One of the perfections of this plea of yours for universal education is that it avoids every thing calculated to raise against the measure prejudice of race and color. The fact that the new senator from Georgia came to the support of your great measure is very significant and hopeful.

I see no great or happy future for my race or for the Republic outside general education – and it seems to me that you dear Sir, standing where you do can do no better work for the nation than to press this idea upon the Nation’s mind and heart.

Very truly and gratefully yours,

Fredk Douglass

200 years later, we can still absorb our tremendous, yet, tumultuous history, and the strength of one individual who’s name echoes in the halls of capitol buildings, schools, and universities. Frederick Douglass’ legacy will be celebrated by all as a man who lived to experience the transformational power of learning, and who defended the right for all to be free from ignorance.

Monica Morrill is a Geographer focusing on government regulation and policies. She is a member of the National Federation of Republican Women, and an Executive Committee Member of the Pennsylvania Federation of Republican Women. She co-authored the book BETRAYED: The Shocking True Story of Extortion 17 as told by a Navy SEAL’s Father. Ms. Morrill is also a contributor and Investigative Reporter for SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.