Frederick Douglass on current events
In 1894, Douglass made a powerful speech that eerily resonates today
Since we’ve been free, we’ve been fighting for freedom. And apparently the struggle keeps repeating.
In the late 19th century, U.S. southern states had trampled over Reconstruction efforts decades earlier. Black people’s disenfranchisement was law. Lynchings were a regular occurrence. And political leaders were also white terrorists.
In 1894, Frederick Douglass delivered an address, “The Lessons of the Hour,” at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C. It’s said to be one of his last great speeches. He spoke in powerful, angry terms, addressing U.S. citizens and leaders who still prioritized white hate and fear, wasting the country’s potential for greatness. Having witnessed the very brief opportunity for Black advancement after slavery’s end, Douglass shamed the country for its regression. He condemned white mob violence, political oppression and false perceptions of a “negro problem.”
Sound familiar? Here’s more:
Strange things have happened of late and are still happening. Some of these tend to dim the lustre of the American name, and chill the hopes once entertained for the cause of American liberty. He is a wiser man than I am, who can tell how low the moral sentiment of this republic may yet fall. When the moral sense of a nation begins to decline and the wheel of progress to roll backward, there is no telling how low the one will fall or where the other may stop. The downward tendency already manifest has swept away some of the most important safeguards. The Supreme Court has surrendered. State sovereignty is restored. It has destroyed the civil rights Bill, and converted the Republican party into a party of money rather than a party of morals, a party of things rather than a party of humanity and justice. We may well ask what next?
– Frederick Douglass, delivered in the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, January 9th, 1894
Since history is repeating, what can we learn from our ancestors’ resistance in the 19th and 20th centuries?