Sunday, June 24, 2018

Correspondence, Volume 2

Associate Editor L. Diane Barnes has informed me, so I inform the blog, that the second volume of Frederick Douglass's correspondence has been published by Yale University Press!

This one covers 1853 to 1865, some of the most exciting and fiery years of Douglass's life. His quarrels with the Garrisonians, the Civil War, Rosetta's letters home from her sojourn in Philadelphia and New Jersey, Lewis's and Charles's letters home from army life, and so much Gerrit Smith.

As always, anticipate meticulous annotation (even if they could not use a certain book about Douglass and women because it had yet to be published) and an extensive calendar of unpublished correspondence.

This will be quite the boon to many scholars. Wonderful work!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Genesee Elementary Sings of Douglass and Tubman

On June 6, I had the pleasure of visiting this group of 4th graders from Genesee Elementary School in Auburn, New York.

Here they stand in front of the Frederick Douglass monument in Rochester's Highland Park where they had participated in the city's Frederick Douglass Festival on June 9, the following Saturday. Their class sang "Bridge to Freedom," a song that they had written in collaboration with the folk duo Magpie and dedicate to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. 

What an inquisitive group! I don't spend much time around children, so I really had no idea how to act or what to expect. Oh my! They bowled me over. I could not think of them as "kids" or "children" by the end of our hour together. 

They wanted to know what drew me to Douglass. They peppered me with smart questions about the process of writing a book and about Anna and Frederick Douglass. When they asked how many pages were in my book, the girl in the front row, fourth from the right, was quick enough to ask how many of those were actual writing and not notes or index. Her hand was up almost the whole time, that shoot up and wave style of raising her hand, too. Indeed, many of them had that style. 

They begged for more information about his family and descendants, sighing so mournfully over the story of Annie Douglass's death, then Anna's death. They laughed at the story of Lewis Douglass meeting Harriet Tubman down South during the Civil War. They were so excited to know that Highland Park was near where his house had been in Rochester. 

Some told me that they were even writing their own stories. The girl on one knee, third from the left, even asked how to get a story published. Another girl, almost hidden there in the back wearing a bow, wanted to know how to become a college professor. Oh, I hope they do!

Their teachers and librarians, Anne Mlod and Cinda Gilmore, cannot go without mention for having the fortitude to corral that energy into constructive endeavors like songs and writing and the dreaded "showing your work" every day. Thank you to Laurel Ullyette and Martha Swan, as well, for their good work on the Harriet Was Here project that brings such programs to fruition. 

Of course, after a hard day of singing and Douglassing, one must celebrate: Ice Cream!

Photos courtesy of Martha Swan.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Major Award!!!!!

You know, as a kid, I never won a trophy. I am too old for "trophies for everyone." I think I got 5th place in the standing broad jump in 4th grade. which satisfied me just fine because the ribbon was pink and I was all about pink. Turns out band earned me a couple of medals in 8th grade, which I only just emerged from the haze of suppressed memories and old boxed items from my parents house, a surprising find since I made a concerted effort to be last chair. Otherwise, prizes have been few and far between in my life.

I tried not to put too much stock in awards because, well, I really would loved to have won a prize for something -- anything! -- but disappointment is a pill bitter enough to ruin the fun of doing things. Still, a prize for this book? With much shame, I admit that I desperately wanted a prize for this book. Any prize! I didn't care from whom or for what. I didn't care if it was the result of the adage that the winner is always the third choice of everyone on the prize committee -- the only one they all could agree upon. I didn't care if it was the book equivalent of "Miss Congeniality." I wanted the validation, dammit!

Thank you, New York Academy of History, you have given me that validation! Women in the World of Frederick Douglass received its Herbert Lehman Prize for Scholarship in New York History, sharing the prize with Mike Wallace's Greater Gotham: A History of New York City From 1898-1919 (for some context, Wallace won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous installment of his multi-volume history of New York City). I am honored and privileged and thrilled to have received such recognition!

Here is the coverage in Le Moyne's school newspaper, which itself was kind of cool.:

And here is me with the award. Thanks to the miracle that is texting, I could send this to my parents and my brothers' families and my nephew as it happened.:

It isn't a leg lamp, but it will do.

With all of these accolades, I do hope that I have done right by all of the people in the book. May sympathy and understanding of their lives have increased.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"The Women of Cedar Hill," Douglass National Historic Site, 18 February 2018

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Anacostia, D.C., was once again kind enough to invite me to speak at their annual Frederick Douglass Birthday Celebration in February. This, of course, was a big one being the Bicentennial. The audience was filled with women who were so excited to hear about the women who lived in Cedar Hill.

[A video should appear here, but for some reason it will only appear in preview. When I post, it sometimes disappears.]

Before my talk, as I contemplated the Maryland biscuits (which were tasty!), a woman and her young daughter and I began a conversation about Anna. She had fallen in love with Anna -- "obsessed" her daughter said -- and had been up all the night before researching her on the internet. She ran in and bought my book, and I signed it right there for her and her daughter. If you are out there, ladies, I hope you enjoyed it and are still reading about the first Mrs. Douglass!

Friday, June 15, 2018

An Apology

In the past six months, perhaps longer, a person in the Washington, D.C., area has designated himself the court historian of Frederick Douglass scholarship. While I do not doubt the sincerity of his love for Douglass and respect his ability to craft prose and excavate primary documents, his devotion to Douglass has become downright abusive toward anyone whom he deems unworthy. Thus far, this does not include me. Indeed, he has been quite generous in promoting my work, for which I have been grateful.

Herein lies the problem and the basis for my apology.

Over these past months, I have become aware that he has begun accompanying every compliment of my book in public posts, semi-private e-mails, and encounters with the public or other scholars with insults of other scholars. Sometimes these are long tirades and sometimes they are implications. Sometimes they are pointed at particular, named scholars. Sometimes they are blanket condemnations. Whatever the case, my own response in learning of this has gone from cringing to embarrassment to outright humiliation. Whether he knows it or not, he is using my work to bludgeon other scholars.

I in no way condone this behavior. Indeed, I am quite upset to be used in this manner. I apologize to anyone who has been insulted or by this person using my book as a means to attack them; and I apologize for not saying something sooner. While I am proud of my work, I consider myself no better nor any worse than most scholars out there. I just happened to come up with a really good idea and saw it through to completion with plenty of luck and help along the way -- including from not only this person but many of the people whom he has attacked.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Anna Douglass in the Smithsonian Magazine, 5 March 2018

In early March, Smithsonian Magazine published an article about Anna Douglass, Frederick's first wife, "The Hidden History of Anna Murray Douglass." The writer, Lorraine Boissoneault, contacted me and Rochester local historian Rose O'Keefe (look for her talk at the Rochester Public Library this fall) to offer some insight.

Anna Douglass might have been embarrassed by all of this attention to her, but hers was a history that many women out there are so very happy to learn about. Her life mattered to many women.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Frederick Douglass at 200 at Linfield College, Oregon, 27 April 2018

This past spring has been quite busy in the Frederick Douglass world, and for Women in the World of Frederick Douglass. Much gratitude to everyone who has read the book, to everyone who has purchased the book, and to everyone who has expressed in any way their appreciation of it by reading it, buying it, coming to a talk, talking to me about Douglass and the women in his life, inviting me to talk about it, and awarding the book a prize.

Here is a video of a talk that I gave at the "Frederick Douglass at 200" symposium at Linfield College in McMinville, Oregon, in April.:

The full playlist of speakers can be found here. They include Diana Schaub, David Blight (who gives us an outline of his upcoming and eagerly anticipated biography of Douglass, out in October), Melvin Rogers, and Ibram Kendi. They are all fantastic, and it was an honor to share the program with them.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., named to the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission

Next year is Douglass's Bicentennial! Many forces have been at work to have the federal government recognize this landmark year for one of the most famous and important black men in the history of our nation, and prospects seemed bleak given that the current occupant of the White House seemed unaware that Douglass died back in 1895 and that he has been getting quite a bit of recognition for 199 years. Fortunately, the forces of good prevailed and Congress created a Douglass Bicentennial Commission, naming Douglass descendant Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., as one of its leaders. Eleanor H. Norton, who represents the voice of the unrepresented residents of Washington, D.C., sponsored the bill and will serve alongside Morris.

Morris's grandfather was Frederick Douglass, III, who was the son of Joseph Douglass, the violinist, who was son of Charles Douglass, a Civil War veteran of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry and 5th Cavalr, who was son of Himself, Frederick Douglass. His grandmother, by the way, was granddaughter of Booker T. Washington. (You can find a family tree here: --or, you know, in the appendix of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass.) Morris himself carries on the work of Douglass through the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative, raising awareness about modern day human trafficking.

Eleanor H. Norton and Kenneth B. Morris, Jr.,
will lead the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission.
Image Source:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Recent Sitings of "Women in the World of Frederick Douglass"

Alas, the best laid plans of bloggers and women were derailed last week by a blood drive. Although I don't consider myself particularly small nor particularly anemic, my weight, height, and iron counts just barely clear the bar for a blood donation. The result? I felt much as if I had contracted Lucy's wasting illness in Dracula for a week. Fortunately, no vampires were involved, and steak rather than stakes are involved in the cure. Steak, iron pills, big salad with spinach, and Dinosaur barbeque. I'm feeling much better; but my doctor says my days of blood donation are over -- or my day of donation, since this was the only time I've ever done this.

Meanwhile, recent and upcoming events on the book front.;

This one is a little older, but is a contribution to the blog The Page 99 Test. As the header explains, page 99 of a book is supposed to reveal the quality of the book. This blog, like My Book, The Movie, is associated with The Campaign for the American Reader. :

Lillian Calles Barger interviewed me about the book for her podcast on New Books Network. She was a fantastic host. I always love talking with someone who has read the book and can ask questions that delve deeper into the material.:

Jonathan Lande reviewed the book for The Civil War Monitor, and I owe him a drink or chocolate or the ambrosia of his choice for such a glowing praise. He gets what I was trying to say in the book better than I do!

During this week of anemia, I spoke to the Binghamton Civil War Round Table. While they apologized for the size of the crowd, I thought the room was full. On top of that, they asked great questions and bought books.

Then, the Onondaga Historical Association's book group had chosen my book for this month, so they invited me in for a discussion. They had so many great questions and admired all of these women who supported Douglass just as much as they found him fascinating. We had a lovely time -- an hour and a half if I was keeping track correctly -- just chatting about some amazing and quite human figures from the past.:

This may sound silly, but any indication that someone read and understood the book is such a thrill. When you write a book, you spend years feeling like you are sounding your barbaric yawp into the wilderness. Meanwhile, you spend your everyday life teaching, punctuated by paper presentations at conferences. Between the answers on exams and the questions at panels, all of which seem only vaguely related to what you actually said, you begin to doubt your ability to communicate in any verbal form. So, when people do understand -- ah! The joy!

In a few weeks, the British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH) will hold their annual meeting in Warwick, England, and I will be presenting a paper on Douglass's Grand Tour (hence, the blog posts about it). One of my fellow panelists, Daniel Joslyn, will be giving a paper on Douglass in Egypt. Like Douglass, I am an unashamed Anglophile, so a visit there always gives me a little thrill.

Later, on October, a play about abolitionists, The Agitators, will be having a run in Rochester, New York. On the 24th, the theater will host a panel of historians to discuss the context of the play's events. I'll be participating and provide more information when I have it.

In November, I'll be down in Houston, Texas, to give a talk at Houston Community College. (Since I'll be down there, if anyone wants to bring me in to their school, contact me and I'll be happy to oblige.)

Then, on December 11, the Brooklyn Historical Society will be having me in to talk about the book. Tickets are only $5.: