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tv   [untitled]    April 4, 2012 9:30pm-10:00pm EDT

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if we could have the pictures there. i brought a photo. this guy is so handsome, i figure it enhances my chances to finish at least fifth -- or fourth. i don't know if lee is going to show up today or not. and i know lee was i an gorgeous guy, too. but check him out. my subject, of course, is frederick douglass. he was born frederick augustus washington bailey on the holme hill farm along the tuckahoe river in talbot county on maryland's eastern shore in february 1818. a little more on that background in just a moment. in this year 1862, frederick douglass resides in rochester, new york, where he moved in 1847 after his return from a more than two-year sojourn in great britain.
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where he moved in part for security and safety for himself and his family, even though at that point, his legal freedom was purchased that very year by his british friends. he would no longer have to live as a fugitive slave. but rochester was to a degree an enclave of anti-slavery neighbors. he is in at this point the 15th year of editing the longest lasting black anti-slavery newspaper ever, then known as "douglass' monthly." earlier known as "the north star." he travels constantly as the single most sought after anti-slavery orator in the land. he is at this point in 1862, the author of more than 1,000 editorials in his newspapers and in many other anti-slavery newspapers, hundreds and
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hundreds of speeches, some of which are already regarded as the rhetorical masterpieces of american reform and of abolitionism. he is the author of two autobiographies. the first published in 1845 when he was but 28 years old called "narrative of the life of frederick douglass, an american slave," already a classic by the 1850s through multiple editions, a best selling book by any measure in the 19th century and ten years later, a second autobiography entitled "my bondage and my freedom," 1855, where he carries the story up to the middle of the 1850s, a more mature and in some ways more personally revealing, and much
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more politically ideological autobiography than the first. both of those books had attained literary, true literary fame in the united states and in britain as the best exemplars, or some of the best exemplars at least of the american genre of the memoir tradition. at this point in time in 1862, frederick douglass is the most famous and important black person, or at the time, he would have been called an american negro or a colored man in the world. his name and his visage already tied inextricably to america's peculiar and now bloody struggle over slavery and freedom in the world's model republic destroying itself by 1862. in this year of 1862, as the civil war grinds on in its
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terrible path from a conflict of limited aims, southern political independence and the preservation of a social order and an economic system as it is in the south on one side and the preservation of a national union, an intact united states on the other. as those limited war aims are being transformed all around us, as the scale and purpose of the war were undergoing a revolution to determine whether racial slavery will survive this war or become, in great part, the reason one side or the other may win or lose this struggle. no american in reality or symbolically looms more important than the most famous
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fugitive slave in the world, frederick douglass. a little more on his background. he was the son of harriet bailey. and in all likelihood, her white master, although we don't know for sure and he never knew. he came into the world in probably the cabin of his grandmother, betsy bailey, who had a cabin and a relatively independent sort of economic life and more than 20 children dependent on her at a bend in the tuckahoe river in maryland's eastern shore. betsy bailey, his grandmother, was a master fisher woman who would wade out into the tuckahoe river with her shad nets. she was a sort of queen of the neighborhood.
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she was the only semblance of a parental figure douglass really had. at age 6, douglass was sent to live at the plantation owned by colonel edward lloyd, former governor of maryland. during his two years living at the plantation, which he called the great house farm, frederick saw his mother for the last time in 1825 when he was nearly 7 years old. she died the following year. he had virtually no real memory of her, but he kept trying to invent her. at one point, he saw an image of one of the egyptian kings. ramses iii, v, i forgot. and though a male figure, there was such beauty in the face, he
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decided hmm, that's what my mother looked like. he never knew the identity of his father, but he never stopped trying to find out. the two likely candidates were aaron anthony, his first owner or thomas auld, his second owner. he never truly would know and we still don't. he was sent to live in baltimore to be the companion in 1827 of tommy auld, the nephew of his owner, thomas auld. and so he went. one of the first great breaks of douglass' life was indeed becoming an urban slave boy because it was there that his mistress, sophia auld taught him
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the alphabet, gave him language. something his owners would live to regret. as did maybe others. no one took to words and language quite like this kid. we can't explain entirely his extraordinary gift for the music of words. the music of language that he heard in his head. but he did have a few sort of teachers. and one of them was sophia auld. until her husband, hugh, ordered her after most of a year, stop teaching that slave boy words and language. slaves are not to be literate. but nothing could stop him. he learned a lot about language in the streets of baltimore from little white boys. he made real friends among the little white boys. most of them irish immigrants. until they reached the age of 12
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douglass wrote beautifully about how little boys are just such natural believers in equality and liberty, until they turn about 12. he was sent back to the eastern shore in 1833 because his owner, aaron anthony died, and all of anthony's slaves had to be parcelled out. he had no less than 14 brothers and sisters and first cousins, sold south from the eastern shore of maryland during his lifetime as a slave. the 20 years he lived as a slave. his lucky break was that his new owner was to be thomas auld, who sent him back to baltimore to live with his brother, hugh. again, i would stress had he not had the fortune of going to baltimore, of living in this urban environment, we probably wouldn't even know who he was.
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it was in baltimore that douglass sort of began to see pieces of the world. he lived two blocks from the docks of baltimore's harbor. a major american seaport. it was there he began to learn a craft as a caulker, it was there he got in his first street fights. he had to defend himself. it was there that he had to learned clandestine ways to hide his fascination with language, to smuggle newspapers under his pillow in his loft bed and try to read at night by a candle. it was there that he began to learn that the worst part of slavery wasn't physical bondage, it was psychological bondage. it was there that he learned he had to find his own ways to mentally survive. he was once again sent back to the eastern shore as a
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16-year-old teenager to thomas auld. he worked in thomas auld's store in st. michael's. auld couldn't control this kid anymore. he's a 16-year-old boy. he was always complaining that he was hungry. and he had never done field work. he had never been a field hand. and auld had him out doing every kind of field work. and young now growing frederick bailey hated it. auld was the first master to whip him but auld wasn't very good at it. and auld gave up. for the better part of a year, rented douglass to a ceremony known slave breaker in the community seven miles away, one edward covey. edward covey became douglass' master for the better part of a year between the ages of 16 and 17. edward covey beat douglass and terrorized him psychologically,
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broke him as a human being according to douglass of' memory. broke him, lost his will. at one point he fled back to st. michael's and begged thomas auld to just take me away from that fiend. auld said no. it's probably your own fault. go back in the morning. he went back the next morning tail between his legs. but it was a sunday and edward covey didn't beat slaves on sunday, but on monday morning, he met douglass working in the stables lifting hay. with a switch, and according to douglass, he resisted, and they fought, claimed douglass, for two years. two hours.
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i've never believed that that fight lasted two hours. who knows. maybe 20 minutes. but according to douglass in this pivotal moment of his life as a slave, at least it's the way he portrays it, he fought back physically with his hands, and he fought edward covey and beat him. now, under the law and under most circumstances, douglass was now in mortal danger. but covey did nothing about it. and douglass interprets it, we don't have much in the way of other forms of interpretation, he interpreted it as covey worried about his reputation. nothing was done to douglass. he served out his time with covey. covey never again laid a hand on him. there is an extraordinary remembrance that douglass wrote down in his first autobiography of a day that he spent on
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covey's farm, and i just want to read that passage, because i think it is the most beautiful and lyrical and penetrating metaphor in all of anti-slavery literature. one of the most stunning in all of american literature. douglass remembered a day on covey's farm and if you go there today, i could take you to covey's former property. i've been there now with other people and you can walk out on this ridge and you can see what douglass saw. our house, he wrote, stood within a few rods of the check whose broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the habitable globe. douglass then captures the idea of freedom. possibly as well as any american ever wrote it. those beautiful vessels, he
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writes, robed in purest white. so delightful to the eye of free men were to me so many shrouded ghosts to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition. i have often in the deep stillness of a summer sabbath stood all alone upon the lofty banks of that noble bay and traced with saddened heart and tearful eye the countless number of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. the sight of these always affected me powerfully. my thoughts would compel utterance. and there with no audience but the almighty, i would pour out my soul's complaint in my rude way with an apostrophe to the moving multitude of ships. if you ever go glance at douglass' narrative, he then quotes. he puts his words in quotes as though he is quoting his teenage memory.
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and it reads, "he speaks to the ships." you are loose from your moorings and are free. i am fast in my chains and am a slave. you move merrily before the gentle gale and i sadly before the bloody whip. you are freedom swift winged angels and fly around the world. i am confined in bands of iron. oh, that i was were free. oh, i were on one of your gallant decks and under your protecting wings. alas, betwixt you and me, the turbid waters roll. go on. go on. oh, that i could also go. could i but swim? if i could but fly, oh, why was i born a man of whom to make a brute? the glad ship has gone. she hides in the dim distance. i am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery.
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in that famous passage, douglass reaches an early height in his craft as a writer. appealing for deliverance from enemies testifying to the tattered but refurbished faith, douglass wrote what might be called his own psalm, a prose poem about the meaning of freedom. in the decade before the civil war, and i think maybe ever since or now, readers of any persuasion, if they are reading, can sit with douglass in the dark nights of their own soul along our own chesapeakes and feel the deepest yearnings of human freedom. we've all had chesapeakes to look across. chesapeakes across which to
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escape. now back to 1862. in january 1862, douglass you'll remember edits his own newspaper. it's a monthly. he's on the road half his life giving lectures and speeches all over the north. and he manages every month to write at least one and sometimes three to four editorials. he is his own interpreter of the war, and has been ever since the war broke out. he gave a speech on january 14 1862. i'm staying within the year, john, called "the reasons for our troubles." now among the things he says in
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this speech are this. and i actually would like to argue that my dear friend jim mcpherson wrote a brilliant little essay years ago, some of you will remember called something like how lincoln won the war with metaphors. now, we all know wars are won with more than metaphors. but douglass won part of this war with metaphors, too. i am to speak to you tonight, he gave the speech in philadelphia by the way at something called national hall in philly. i am to speak to you tonight of the civil war by which this vast country, this continent is convulsed the fate of the greatest of all modern republics trembles in the balance. to be or not to be, that is the question. the lesson of the hour is written down in characters of blood and fire. we are taught as with the emphasis of an earthquake. that nations not less than
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individuals are subjects of the moral government of the universe, and that flagrant, long continued the laws of this divine government will certainly bring national sorrow, shame, suffering, death. of all the nations of the world, we seem most in need of this solemn lesson. today, we have it brought home to our hearths, our homes, and our hearts. and then he goes on. he says a couple pages later, and by the way, douglass could chastise and bitterly condemn the union government, the lincoln administration, his own fellow yankee northerners just as viciously as poignantly as he could ever condemn the confederacy or southerners or
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slave holders themselves, depending on the moment you look at him in this war. the worst of our condition is not to be sought, he says in our disaster on flutter field. not on the battlefield, he says. it is to be found rather in the character which contact with slavery has developed in every part of the country so that at last there seems to be no truth, no candor left within us. we have faithfully copied all the cunning of the serpent without any of the harmlessness of the dove or the boldness of a lion. it would seem, he said, in the language of isaiah that the whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint and there is no soundness within.
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that's january. 1862. now, one other metaphor from that same speech. actually, it's a paragraph typical of douglass laced with at least three metaphors. others still explain he said the whole matter by telling us that it is the work of defeated and disappointed politicians of the south. i shall waste no time upon either. the cause of this rebellion is deeper down than either southern politicians or northern abolitionists. they are but the hands of the clock. the machinery moves not because of the hands but the hands because of the machinery. the ship may be great, but the ocean that bears it is greater.
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it the southern politicians and the northern abolitionists are mere fruits, not the trees. they indicate but they are not the original causes. the trouble is deeper down. and fundamental. there is nothing strange about it. the conflict is in every way natural. how can two walk together except they be agreed? no man can serve two masters. a house divided against itself cannot stand. gee, where did he get that? it is something of a feat to ride two horses going the same way. and at the same pace, but a still greater feat when going in opposite directions. he's trying to say, yeah, i'm a partisan.
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i represent the slaves, but this war comes from the depth of human nature and tragedy on both sides. a little more than midway through this year, and there are many places to stop here that i don't have time for, he was a bitter critic of the lincoln administration as many of you know. he was a bitter critic of lincoln's policy of returning fugitive slaves at one point he called abraham lincoln the most powerful slave catcher in the land. he hated lincoln's policy as long as it lasted of the possible colonization of blacks out of the country especially
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when they tried to enlist him to be the black czar of black colonization of blacks leaving the country. at one point he called lincoln an itinerant colonization preacher. he hated that meeting at the white house with five hand picked ministers from the washington, d.c. area where lincoln told those black representatives we wouldn't be having this war but for your people and then tried to recruit them to lead an effort to get all blacks to emigrate from the country. douglass was deeply disappointed by that but he changed his tune after september 22nd, changed his tune after antietam. he wrote this editorial that was published in october. he wrote is right after antietam or right after the preliminary emancipation proclamation. now to the gladness and joy he said of all who wish well to the country and sympathize with the sorrows of the enslaved negro. all is changed.
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the 22nd of september is the beginning of a new dispensation in america. the proclamation of president lincoln is the first chapter of a new history. he was worried, wary, he could still lambaste lincoln with one hand and talk about him with great hope and admiration with another that fall of 1862. but by december, and i'm not to quote him after december 1862, and man, if i could -- but in december, the last things douglass wrote before getting on the train to go to boston to be at that magnificent meeting in tremont temple in boston where all abolitionists in new england
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would gather, where he would lead the crowd waiting for the news of lincoln signing the proclamation, where they would wait all day for the news to come. whoops, i'm in january 1st now, sorry. can't do that. sorry. except you should know that at that meeting, douglass even led the crowd in songs and spirituals. he led them at one point in blow ye the trumpet blow, one of his favorite old hymns. but before he left on that train to get to boston on december 28th, he penned one editorial called january 1st and the other editorial was called "a day for poetry and song." he wrote it on december 28th. the opening line was -- it was to be printed, of course, in his paper after the 1st. this is scarcely a day for propose, he said.
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it is a day for poetry and song. a new song. these cloudless skies, this balmy air this brilliant sunshine making december as pleasant as may are in harmony with the glorious morning of liberty about to dawn upon us. i just want to end by going back to a passage in douglass' second autobiography. douglass had for nearly 20 years before 1862 exactly 20 years actually, his public speaking career would be in 1841. he had been giving the country
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that part of the country that listened and a lot of people listened, he had many enemies. many friends. he had been giving the country a narrative. he had been giving the country metaphors. he had been giving them a story they could imagine, but does this little passage that he left in bondage and freedom in 1855 and who is he speaking for here? the thought of only being a creature of the present and the past always troubled me, and i long to have a future, a future with hope in it. to be shut up entirely to the past and present is abhorrent to the human mind. it is to the soul whose life and happiness is unceasing progress. what the prison is to the body. i long to have a future with hope in it. that's such a simple phrase. in 1862, the american civil war was being transformed.


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