History, Research, and Current Themes

"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

Search This Blog & Links


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Frederick Douglass in Columbus, Ohio, July 1850

This 1850 notice of an appearance of Frederick Douglass on July 22, 1850 appeared in the Daily Ohio State Journal (Columbus).  Although it would be great if a transcription of his speech was published, at least the journalist noted some high points of Douglass' speech, particularly his integrationist vision of the future, and his disdaining of any notion of black "expatriation" to Africa.  In the antebellum period as today, the black community was no monolith in regard to political opinions and programs.  Douglass had not only struck out on his own despite the criticism of paternalistic white Garrisonians, but clashed with the advocates of Black Nationalism in that era.

Douglass circa 1850 (Howard University)
As the scholar and documentary authority Paul Lee has observed, in the 19th century Black Nationalism was inclusive of black internationalism.  The dichotomy of Black Nationalism versus Pan Africanism was an unfortunate introduction in the 20th century, and tended to skew the fact that Black Nationalists had always been black internationalists.  Douglass would have nothing to do with the idea of blacks removing themselves to Africa, either by the racist sponsorship of white colonization (a movement that had been soundly beaten by Garrison's arguments) or according to black repatriation.

John Brown made no political statements as to this intra-community debate among African Americans, and probably took a pragmatic view of black solutions.  On the other hand, there are chunks of Black Nationalism in Brown's comfortable association with Martin Delany, Willis Hodges, and Augustus Washington (Delany made an exploratory trip to West Africa in 1859, and Washington actually relocated to Liberia).  Brown also studied the history of earlier black repatriation and maroons, and supported the experimental black agrarian community of "Timbucto" in the Adirondacks in the late 1840s.

It is perhaps an aspect of disappointment that Douglass was so intent on blacks staying put, that in his later years, at the demise of Reconstruction, that he would not even support black relocation to other parts of the United States--even when it was clear the black community was under assault in the South.1  Even in its most extreme form of argument, Douglass was always determined that black people should prioritize their identity as citizens.  In this he was the forerunner of the 20th century integrationist perspective, over against the Black Nationalist (and so-called Pan-Africanist) perspective, that prioritizes African identity over nationality.

This article, though brief, is also descriptive if not picturesque.  It describes Douglass as an orator and gives us a glimpse of the kind of racist mobs that Douglass regularly encountered when he spoke, in this case a group of white rowdies whose method was to stomp their feet during his speech.  The tone of the journalist likewise should give us a sense of the "antislavery" opinion in Ohio, which would acknowledged Douglass' abilities, but suggested his quest was impractical.

In haste--LD

Frederick Douglass. 
This black orator, who has attained so great notoriety for his bold assaults on our institutions, spoke in the State House yesterday at 3 and 7 P. M. Many of our citizens, induced by curiosity, went to hear him. In his first speech, he dwelt chiefly on the injustice of American slavery, and defended himself from the charge of treason brought against him for his speeches in England, and disunion sentiments, by saying, he had no country to which he could prove a traitor. At 7 P. M., he spoke on the future destiny of the African race in America, and argued that the prejudice against color would be gradually obliterated, and the two races would live on equal terms, as expatriation was impossible. 
Douglass has a fine voice for speaking, and uses excellent language, and we think if his talents were employed in some practical scheme for the improvement of his race, that he might effect much.  
At night, some half grown boys in the gallery endeavored to create a disturbance by stamping, which was however promptly put down by the orderly portion of our citizens. We detest this spirit of mobocracy, particularly when exercised against the weak, however obnoxious their sentiments are. If individuals do not wish to hear what is said at a public meeting, let them stay away, and not disturb those who wish to hear. Such conduct is a violation of the equal rights of a portion of the community. The public press, while condemning all such doctrines as those advocated by Douglass, ought to be equally prompt in rebuking the mob spirit, which in its fickleness may soon be turned against some better cause, and persecution will only strengthen a bad cause, as all experience demonstrates.

Source: Frederick Douglass,” Daily Ohio State Journal, Jul 23, 1850, p. 1
     1 See Frederick Douglass, "The Negro Exodus From the Gulf States," Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (Jan. 1880).

No comments: