Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2018 Issue

Frederick Douglass Finally Gets His University Degree

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Frederick Douglass.

It is long overdue, but one of America's greatest writers, orators, and voices of freedom has finally received a degree from his hometown university, the University of Rochester. It is an honorary degree, as he was denied an opportunity for a normal education when he was young. While he was not able to attend himself, his great-great-great grandson, Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., accepted the award on his behalf. Frederick Douglass died in 1895, but his name remains familiar today with all who know American history. We are a better nation for his presence.

 

Douglass was born a slave, most likely in 1818, on a plantation in Maryland. He was taken from his mother at a very early age, lived with his grandmother until separated from her at age 6, and was passed around to his master's brother and then hired out to a man who beat him. For a while, his master's wife taught him the alphabet and basics of reading, but stopped when his master expressed the view that learning to read would encourage the slave to seek freedom. Still, Douglass managed to gain access to reading material, and some assistance from white children. He became a voracious, if clandestine, reader. Denied a formal education, he taught himself.

 

After a couple of abortive attempts, Douglass escaped in 1838. He managed to board a train heading north, making it to freedom in Philadelphia, and then on to New York City. He hooked up with the abolitionist movement and a local church. Already a self-taught writer, Douglass began speaking. His oratorical skills soon became legendary. He went on speaking tours, promoting primarily abolition, but other causes, such as women's rights, as well. In 1845, he published the first of three autobiographies he wrote, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

 

In 1845, he traveled to Ireland and England. He was amazed, not just by the absence of slavery, but by the fact that he was treated as an equal. Even in the North, segregation prevailed, but in Ireland and England, he could eat in the same restaurants, attend the same churches, enter commercial establishments through the front door.

 

He might have stayed longer than two years, but his calling was the other slaves back home in America, still seeking freedom. That is what brought him to Rochester, where he lived the next 25 years, the longest time in any one place in his life. Way out in western New York, 350 miles from the city, might seem an odd place for an abolitionist to go, but western New York was a hotbed of radical thought in the day. Among those who would live at least part of their lives in upstate New York were abolitionists Gerrit Smith, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, and Soujourner Truth. From the women's movement the area was home to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Seneca Falls, host to the first women's rights convention in 1848, is located not far from Rochester.

 

Douglass would write two more updated autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855 and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1881. He would help recruit black soldiers during the Civil War, continue to work for his causes after the war, and serve in various government offices. The weapon in his battle for equal rights, for freed slaves, women, and all, was his voice. His enormous intellectual, oratorical, and literary skills would be a crushing force against his opponents. Those who fought first for slavery, and later for Jim Crow, created ugly stereotypes of blacks, as illiterate, unintelligent, inferior beings. Just the other day, Roseanne Barr filled the headlines for still applying such a stereotype. Douglass was their living contradiction, a man whose intellectual capacities far outstripped their own.

 

Douglass now has his degree, a long time coming.


Posted On: 2018-06-02 13:22
User Name: mackinac

I was just inFlorence, Italy, May 2018, and attended a ceremony honoring Douglass who had twice visited the English Cemetery, where rich British ex-pats or visitors who died in Florence in the late 1880's are buried. He had come to visit the grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning who was buried there by her husband Robert. She had been very active in the anti slavery movement and her large tombstone had broken slave chains on the back. The cemetery will be placing a marble sign saying that he had visited it. I can give contact info if anyone wants.
Carol Schroeder, Maryland


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  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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