Saturday, March 2, 2013

Douglass in the News

Frederick Douglass usually appears in the news during February, Black History Month, although stories about contemporary issues and Civil Rights figures usually dominate the features. 

Sadly, in the past week, stories about rolling back civil rights gains of the entire history of the United States have appeared in the news. I don't know what Douglass himself would have to say about the climate of today, but such moments should make people living now understand that these fights have a historical context and that things a man said or did almost 200 years ago continue to speak truth to the hostility toward equality and progress today.

Here are two stories that appeared in my Google Alerts for news about Frederick Douglass. The first, written by Stan Simpson and appearing in the Hartford Courant, tells of Douglass's awakening to the connection between literacy, critical thinking, and freedom of both the body and the mind. I confess that, over twenty years ago when I first read Douglass's Narrative (or remember reading it), that moment in his story made me love it. In this day,"they" or "the business community" or whoever drives education reform demean the liberal arts by demanding a "skilled workforce." Yet, Douglass's describes precisely the ways that reading and exposure to new ideas through words and books develop creativity and the skill of thinking necessary to survival in this complex world.

Stan Simpson, "Fight the Power of Ignorance to Enslave," Hartford (Ct) Courant, 28 Feb 2013.

The second story is by Leigh Fought -- ME!  In this story, which appeared in the Syracuse Standard, I make connections to interracial relationships, which were so reviled through most of U.S. history (and, I might add from personal experience, are still reviled today), Frederick Douglass's activism and second marriage, and gay rights. Please note, I am not saying that Douglass would support gay marriage if he were alive today. I don't want to speak for him over a century after his death. I was just using his life to illuminate and illustrate an issue today.

Leigh Fought, "Commentary: Frederick Douglass and Interracial Marriage," Syracuse (NY) Standard, 25 Feb 2013.

Also illustrated, the poor reading comprehension skills and ugly bigotry of the majority of commenters. That, I suppose, demonstrates a slight flaw in Douglass's connection of literacy to ideas. The reader has to understand what he reads before he can be enlightened by the words. That, or not exploit the newspaper's platform to hammer their own issue.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ann Coughlan on Douglass's Visit to Ireland

Last week, during the preparations for the Frederick Douglass in Ireland event at St. John Fisher College, (which was -- as the Irish say -- grand!) organizer Tim Madigan interviewed one of the speakers, Ann Coughlan, for the college television station. Coughlan is a PhD candidate in literature at University College-Cork, and her dissertation is on Douglass's visit to Ireland. Her paper at the event was a lovely dissection of Douglass's language as he described poverty in Ireland. As she says, he was a marvelous writer, and that sometimes gets lost in all of the discussion over the contents of his writing and the actions of his life. He could put together a moving, beautiful sentence, and structure a story with the best of them.

Here, Coughlan discusses her own work and interests more generally.

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