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Frederick Douglass, Seen Up Close
Jennifer Schuessler, July 3, 2020, The New York Times
In 2006, the historian David Blight had just given a talk about Frederick Douglass in Savannah, Ga., when he was introduced to Walter Evans, a retired surgeon and collector. Dr. Evans invited him to stop by the house and see his Douglass collection. Dr. Blight was cautiously intrigued.
But later, as Dr. Evans began laying out some carefully rebound scrapbooks on his dining room table, he was stunned to see page after page of newspaper clippings, letters and personal reminiscences of the escaped slave who became one of the most famous men in 19th century America.
They were the Douglass family scrapbooks, carefully assembled and annotated by Douglass’s sons — and all but unknown to scholars.
“I was astonished,” Dr. Blight recalled in an interview. “I’m not even sure I knew what I was seeing at first.”
Dr. Evans put it a bit more vividly. “I could see David’s head exploding,” he said.
Europe in 1989, America in 2020, and the Death of the Lost Cause
David W. Blight, July 1, 2020, The New Yorker
In November, 1989, when the Berlin Wall suddenly began to crumble and then fall, much of the world watched in awe. Could it be true that Communism was about to collapse? For seventy years, it had been a system, an ideology, that ordered large swaths of the globe. Now a whole vision of history—a vision meant to maximize freedom, but which had turned, over time, into tyranny—seemed to be leaving the stage.
Many people still possess, as I do, little pieces of concrete from the Berlin Wall. And many of us feel some awe in seeing, during these past few weeks, Confederate monuments in America likewise reduced to pieces, relics of the collapse, after a hundred and fifty-five years, of the public vestiges of the Lost Cause tradition. The summer of 2020, like the autumn of 1989, could mark the death of a specific vision of history. If so, it has taken a long, long night—to borrow from Robbie Robertson and the Band—to drive old Dixie down.
Declaration of Independence & Frederick Douglass’s 1852 Oration: Readings Online
The Beinecke Library at Yale
This year’s readers include David Blight, Erik Clemons, Tubyez Cropper, Walter Evans, Joanne Freeman, N’Kiyah Galberth, Tanina Gatison, Dante Haughton, Bianca Ibarlucea, Eva Knaggs, George Miles, Frank Mitchell, Michael Morand, Babz Rawls Ivy, Deja Senna-Leslie, and JiJi Wong.
For several years, the Beinecke Library has marked the Independence Day holiday with a public reading in early July of the United States Declaration of Independence and the oration by Frederick Douglass given on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, in which Douglass asked: “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”
These readings have been accompanied by an exhibition of the Beinecke Library’s first editions of both works, providing an opportunity to consider how these powerful words were put on paper to be shared across and beyond the United States.
Channeling Frederick Douglass on July 4th
July 2, 2020, Michael Schulder, Nantucket Book Festival
Douglass lived his first 20 years as a slave, before escaping and making his way to the northeast. He began telling his story and preaching at an AME church in New Bedford. Abolitionist leaders discovered Douglass there and invited him to Nantucket, in 1841, to attend one of their regular anti-slavery gatherings on the island. It was on Nantucket -- at The Atheneum -- that Douglass would give his first public address to white abolitionists.
Tear it Down?
Michael Schulder, June 26, 2020, Nantucket Book Festival
There's a new campaign to take down the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, DC. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, Yale history professor David Blight says the statue of a standing Lincoln and a kneeling African American man is "a racist image." And yet, he writes, "Do not tear down this monument."
He proposes a third way -- inspired by the speech that the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave about Abraham Lincoln at the statue's unveiling.
If we could travel back to that historic day, April 14, 1876, we would. Listening to David Blight for the next 18 minutes is the next best thing.