Monday, May 22, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Man is by Nature a migratory animal"

From "My Foreign Travels," Douglass's December 15, 1887 speech to a crowd at the AME Metropolitan Church about his European tour.:

Man is by Nature a migratory animal. It does not appear that he was intended to swell forever in any one locality. He is a born traveler.
Assuming that he originated in one quarter of the globe only, which is the orthodox view of creation, I believe his present diffusion over the broad earth, shows that he must have early developed this migratory tendency: And when we consider the present passion for travel, the thousands who strain every nerve and muscle to raise the means to go abroad, the loss of time and money sustained, the comforts abandoned at home, and the discomforts borne patiently with abroad, the bad air breathed on ships, the dust, smoke and cinders swallowed on railways, the dangers to life and limb encountered -- we must admit that this migratory tendency, if original, has lost nothing of its intensity in the transmission.

The tendency to travel had taken Douglass's generation, with the expenses declining and the availability of Baedeker's travel guides removing some of the uncertainty. Cultural enlightenment and polish was within reach of parts of the middle class.

Some of us still yearn to move, to see, to partake of that western culture, of the waves of those who have gone before us as actors and tourists. So we shall! Not breathing bad air on ships, but crammed within airplanes (and in one of the middle seats in the middle sections). Not with dust, smoke and cinders, but other pollutants in new cities, different from those in our own cities. What danger to life and limb? I'd rather not contemplate, but the migratory intensity has been transmitted, if only temporarily.  I shall try to find some of the places that pulled him to Rome, Florence, and Venice.

Douglass pondered that Adam "might perhaps have remained at home, contented and happy with Mr.s Adam in the Garden of Eden until now. But they both seemed to have had a very strong desire for knowledge, and something of a roaming disposition." He traveled with his own Mrs. Adam, the second Mrs. Douglass, Helen. I too shall be traveling with my Mr. Adam, who shall remain nameless, as he wishes. I only mention him to point out that this is not a Douglass-centered visit but a vacation on which I hope to visit the same sites as Douglass. I shall have another person's itinerary to consider, as well. As much as he is willing to oblige my obsession, he is only human. Fortunately, like Douglass's Mrs. Adam, we two -- or we four -- have the same desire for knowledge of the same things.

Until we return!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Dreams Come True!

For some reason, seeing Women in the World of Frederick Douglass in the bookstore made me feel like a real, legitimate author. That's silly, magical thinking, as if all of the writing and researching weren't real and legitimate. As if the last book's researching and writing and appearing in a bookstore wasn't real and legitimate. As if the previous book's research and writing weren't, either. All of that was spectacular! Yet, somehow, seeing it in a commercial bookstore seemed like a crowing achievement. My 11 and 12 and 13 year old selves who fantasized about having a book published and sold in B. Dalton or Walden Books -- the chains in those days -- exploded from deep inside of me and we all whooped and shouted and danced around Barnes and Noble when we saw this book looking back at us from the shelf. One of the saleswomen came over and said, "I just have to know, what is it?"

"I wrote that!"

 And a friend sent me a picture from another store, too.:
And yet another friend sent me a picture from a store in D.C.:
Sometimes, dreams come true!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

WSJ Review!!!!

Fergus Bordewich, award-winning author of multiple books such as The First Congress, America's Great Debate, and Bound for Canaan has written a very kind review of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass for this weekend's Wall Street Journal.

Sadly, it is behind a subscriber's firewall, but here is an excerpt:
Born into slavery in Maryland, Douglass (1818-95) escaped to freedom with help from the Underground Railroad and eventually rose to become the most famous African-American of his time: a spellbinding orator, a newspaper editor and eventually a political figure in his own right. He was also, it turns out, one of the age's most passionate male feminists, as Leigh Fought shows in "Women in the World of Frederick Douglass," a fresh and surprising account of Douglass's life.
Douglass saw the emancipation of slaves and the empowerment of women as two fronts in the same war for fundamental human justice. His support for feminist goals was more than political pragmatism, argues Ms. Fought, a professor of history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y. Throughout his life, Douglass's relationships with women were complex, varied and often remarkably intense, not to say shocking to many in the mid-19th century.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

LA Times Festival of Books: Women Behind the Power

A bit behind here, what with grading and catching upon being behind and so forth. Here is the C-Span video of the LA Times Festival of Books: Women Behind the Power from two weeks ago. It was such a lovely experience, with a fantastic audience and a panel of amazing writers. Blanche Wiesen Cook generously helped me to save myself when I blanked on an answer to a question and then figured out what to say. Also, what can you say about an event in which people flocked to tents to buy books and hear authors speak except that there is hope for the world!

My view of the proceedings.:

Monday, March 20, 2017

LA Times Festival of Books, April 22-23, 2017

Well this is a whole new level: I've been asked to be on the panel "Biography: The Women Behind the Power" at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April. The panel includes Blanche Wiesen Cook of Eleanor Roosevelt biography fame, Lisa Napoli, and Susan Quinn.

I actually met Cook ages ago in 2000, in Houston. She did a book reading at the Brazos Bookstore (I think it was), then joined the Women's Group for dinner at a place in West U. where we all gushed over her. I have a picture somewhere. That was the summer before my internship at the Margaret Sanger Papers at NYU.

This is all so amazing! I've never been to Los Angeles! They want authors to meet in a greenroom before their sessions. They asked if we wanted to do media, as in radio and t.v. They wanted a dang headshot! I joke that I shall return all tan, wearing big sun glasses, and waxed from my eyebrows to my toes.  How much will this count on my 15 minutes of fame?

In any case, my panel is on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at 10:30 am.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Yes, the Book Will be a Thing in the World!

I haven't written on this blog in ages. The situation became one in which I could write the blog or write the book, and the book won. Now, it is actually coming out! Officially, the publication date is May 2017 -- that's this May -- although it should be available in April.

The title is now Women in the World of Frederick Douglass.

You can order through the Oxford University Press website,, and Barnes & Noble. It's available as a regular book or an e-book.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Widow Douglass at the National League of Colored Women

Helen Douglass, Frederick's second wife, attempted to carry on the work of her husband. In 1896, she attended the National League of Colored Women's convention in Washington, D.C. The Indianapolis Freeman, a black newspaper, described the meeting as attended by "some of the brainiest women of the race."

They reported this about Douglass:
Mrs. Helen Douglass, widow of the late Frederick Douglass, read a paper. She called particular attention to the [illegible] life of the cities of the Union, and urged that they should unite and bring about a reform in this matter. If the colored women of Washington would unite, she said, they could put an end to living in alleys, and no longer would come from them a steady stream for the workhouse and almshouse.
She spoke of the police court. They ought to find means to keep as many as possible from the place. But there seemed to be a prejudice, and the policeman would pick up a poor old man who sad down weary for a moment in some forbidden place in a park or some thoughtless boy who might pick a magnolia blossom. They would be sent to prison from court the next day. When leniency was to be exercised it was reserved for those who had recklessly taken human life. This was greeted with applause.

Later, Helen invited all of the women up to Cedar Hill on a pilgrimage to view the home of Frederick Douglass. She already had a plan to turn the house into a memorial museum, and these ladies were the key people to court in that regard.

If you've been to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Park in Anacostia, D.C., you have seen that she succeeded.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Not Quite So Underground Railroad, 1850s

When he wrote his Narrative in 1845, Douglass said:
I have never approved of the very public manner in which some of our western friends have conducted what they call the underground railroad, but which, I think, by their open declarations, has been made most emphatically the upperground railroad.
After all, publicity sort of defeated the purpose. But the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and his own growing militancy must have changed his mind.

From Frederick Douglass' Paper, 3 August 1855:

 The U.G.R.R. -- Syracuse Station -- the agent and keeper of the Underground Railroad Depot in this city, Rev. Mr. Loguen, is now busily engaged in providing places for the company of eight fugitives that arrived here on Friday night. He is determined to seek his assistance under like circumstances. We trust that the true lovers of liberty will stand by Loguen in his endeavors in behalf of his poor oppressed brethren who escape from bondage. Those in want of laboring men or women, will do well to call on Loguen, or leave their names with Mr. Wm. E. Abbot. -- Syracuse Journal.
From Frederick Douglass' Paper, 23 July 1858:

To the friends of Humanity:    The entire care of the fugitives who may stop at Syracuse, for comfort and assistance, having been devolved upon me by the Fugitive Aid Society, I hereby give notice that I shall devote myself assiduously to the duties I have undertaken to discharge. I must depend for the support of my family and of the operations I am to conduct, upon the liberality of the friends of freedom, I shall gratefully receive money, clothes and provisions. I will make a faithful use of the same; and will report semi-annually (in Frederick Douglass' Paper, and the Syracuse Standard and Journal) the amounts that I have received and of the numbers of Fugitives that I have sheltered and found homes for. Meanwhile, and at all times, my accounts will be open for the inspection of the friends of the cause.
J.W. Loguen
Syracuse, N.Y. 1858.

The members of the Syracuse Fugitive Aid Society find it no longer convenient nor necessary, to keep up their organization. The labor of sheltering those who flee from Tyranny, providing for their immediate wants, and helping them to find safe homes in this country or Canada, must needs devolve, as it always has devolved, upon a very few individuals. --- Hitherto, since 1850, it has been done for the most part by Rev. J.W. Loguen. He having been a slave and a fugitive himself, knows best how to provide for that class of sufferers, and to guard against imposition.
Mr. Loguen has agreed to devote himself wholly to this humane work; and to depend for the support of himself and family, as well as the maintainance of this Depot on the Under Ground Railroad, upon what the benevolent and friendly may give him.
We, therefore, hereby request, that all fugitives from Slavery,  coming this way, may be directed to the care of Rev. J.W. Loguen; also, that all monies contributed or subscribed may be paid directly to him; and that all clothing or provisions contributed may be sent to his house, or such places as he may designate.
Mr. Loguen will make semi-annual reports of his receipts of money, clothes or provisions; and of the numbers of fugitives taken care of and provided for by him; and he will submit his accounts at any time, to the inspection of any persons who are interested in the success of the Underground Railroad.
Syracuse, Sept. 17, 1857.
Those two notices appeared in Frederick Douglass's Paper through the late 1850s until he stopped publishing the weekly in 1860 (he continued publishing Douglass' Monthly until 1863). Loguen's reports of the fugitives whom he had helped also appeared in the paper.

When I first moved north from Texas, it seemed that every town and every house built before 1950 claimed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad (and, because I lived in Indiana, everywhere seemed to claim some significance in Abraham Lincoln's childhood -- sort of a mid-west version of "George Washington slept here"). Usually the claim rested the presence of a small closet or cellar room. Even in Mystic, Connecticut, someone who really should have known better said of a historic house, "there is a small cupboard in the dining room. We don't know what it was used for, we don't have any documentation, but we think it might have been a hiding place for runaway slaves."

If you do look at the documentation, however, you will find such things as these notices. Like Douglass said, it was a bit of an "upperground railroad." Not everyone was quite so bold as Loguen -- he was kinda badass in giving the finger to the Fugitive Slave Law. Perhaps the League of Gileadites in Springfield, Massachusetts, surpassed him, but they are a story unto themselves. In any case, there are records. William Still recorded the people who showed up at the Philadelphia Antislavery Society's office, and published them later as The Underground Railroad:

The Coffins in Indiana actually did help runaways, and he kept a journal of the people who passed through. The Rochester Ladies' Antislavery Society and Sewing Circle also have a record of the people whom Douglass helped on their way to Canada, and the Census suggests that one or two young men stayed on to apprentice at his papers.

If anyone is interested in digital history, perhaps a database of these freedom-seekers might be an interesting project, not just in the gathering, but also in making an attempt to quantify this sort of resistance and in seeing what other information might emerge.

By the way, remember that this is the site of Loguen's "depot" today:

Remember also that Douglass's son, Lewis, married Loguen's daughter, Amelia. Another Loguen daughter, Sarah "Aunt Tinnie," a doctor, visited Douglass and his second wife in Haiti and there she met the man who became her husband. She's also another story for another time. Douglass had a "sister" (fictive kin) who, after living with the Douglass family for nearly four years, married, moved to Springfield, and joined that League of Gileadites. But, she, too, is another story for another time.

Friday, July 17, 2015

State Convention of the Colored People of North Carolina, 1865

In Raleigh, North Carolina, where the Society of Historians of the Early Republic (SHEAR) are holding their annual meeting this week.:

If you go one block north, here is what you will find:
That is an AME Church, although it is an early 20th century upgrade from the one that stood there in 1865.

You can read a report of the convention's proceedings at the Colored Conventions website.