‘I feel that we children have shared in a measure, your sacrifices for the good of the Cause.’
Born in New Bedford in 1842, Frederick Douglass Jr. (1842-1892) had multiple careers as an antislavery reformer, a Civil War recruiter, a printer, a newspaper editor, a civil rights campaigner, an electoral reform advocate, an educational reformer, and a political correspondent.
Writing his autobiography, ‘Frederick Douglass Jr. in brief from 1842-1890', Frederick Jr. bore witness to a life lived in terrible hardship. Across his published essays, he refused to succumb to the injustices of white racist hate by denouncing ‘Southern terrorism.’ He protested against a traumatising state of affairs according to which,
‘The North can stand by and see without interference white and black men who fought in the late war for the preservation of the Union kukluxed, murdered, and driven into the swamps by the very men who moved Heaven and earth to destroy the country.’
‘The more ignorant and degraded a colored man is in the South the less apt he is to be molested,’ Frederick Douglass Jr. observed. As he realised only too well, a Black man in a position of vulnerability and dispossession was no violation of white Southern privilege, but a Black man in a position of power and equality was a reality not to be tolerated on any terms by a white supremacist society in the USA.
Writing just before he died, Frederick Douglass Jr. refused to lose hope: ‘I feel confident that a better day, not far distant, is dawning upon our outraged people of the South… I feel assured that right and justice – though slow – will triumph in the end.’
Extract from Frederick Douglass Jr., ‘Address by Mr. F. Douglas[s]. Delivered At St. Paul’s Chapel Sabbath South, Washington, D.C., March 13, 1881’ Christian Index, Louisville KY., May 1881:
During two hundred and fifty years of oppression, we were taught to respect the whites and despise ourselves; we learned the white man’s vices and very few of his virtues. We have in a great measure been emancipated, and, notwithstanding all the disadvantages, we are here to-day striving to do something to better our condition morally, religiously and mentally. Much is expected of us as a people; we have accomplished a great deal in the past twenty years, under untold disadvantages and difficulties, and we can accomplish much more by a strict application to the duties of this life. We are young in liberty, and old in slavery; it will take no little time to work out the many evils that our old condition heaped upon us. We cannot forget the past if we would; the many obstructions which are continually being placed in our path, are constant reminders of our past and present condition; still we have every reason to hope for a better state of affairs in the future, and we should continue to struggle by keeping our children in school, and giving them all the encouragement we can, in order that they may be able to battle successfully with the duties of this life. For it is through the rising generation that we are to become and be made an upright, honorable and Christian people.
We should cultivate honesty; an honest man is the noblest work of God; for the word comprises all that is good, it means that he is upright, true, chaste, just and righteous; giving to every man his due; he is above meanness, he spurns the falsifier, he shuns the thief, he loves the righteous, he seeks to do good, and if he is unable to accomplish much good himself, he will not stand in the way of his neighbor. Who can help admiring an honest man? We are held together by honesty, and separated by dishonesty. We must become men and women of conviction, founded upon principle, if we would be successful in the affairs of this life. Principle is the foundation of success; without it, we can accomplish nothing which is really of any service. John Brown fought and died for principle; a more christ-like man never lived. It was my good fortune to be personally acquainted with him; the good impression he left with me is still fresh upon my memory. He was one of those who believed in living a practical life; he believed in condemning wrong, he believed in rebelling against that which his conscience failed to honestly digest, and in that he was right.