tv [untitled] April 5, 2012 4:00am-4:30am EDT
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 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. 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 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, 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. 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 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 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. 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. 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 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 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 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 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. 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. 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. 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 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. 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 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. 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 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. we know that now. people had to know it in realtime then and they knew it in realtime through the pity and terror of war and tremendous loss and fear of just where this war was going. by the end of that year, there was no one who didn't know that the war was now about slavery. and america was about to begin to choose between a future with different kinds of hope in it. and to choose a new history. thank you.
>> and i left out a lot of metaphors. you're lucky. >> again, questions, go to the mics on either side. >> over. >> you mentioned how for douglass metaphor or the importance of the word was truly important. i'd like to know your opinion so that for us in 2012, what do you think of reference to douglass is biracial supposed to black or african-american or perhaps now with by racial, we could say an african-american american? >> i suppose he would probably appreciate the double hyphen i suppose in some way. well, first of all, his racial identity was very, very much a part of his public persona
everywhere he went, both positive and negative, often very negative depending on the audience. he was constantly fending off in his time the charge that his great intelligence, his abilities with words, et cetera, et cetera, must come from his white patrimony and surely not from his slave mother. it's very interesting how douglass treated this question of race. he got deeply interested in ethnography. mr. krick mentioned jackson's interest in phrenology. whoa, douglass got very interested in the racial sciences because there was such a terrible scientific cloud hanging over his people and he went and read everything that he could find in the field that was then called ethnology and he wrote a brilliant actually lecture that he gave at a
college in 1856 essentially taking to pieces the arguments, the biological argument of the racial sciences, that is that the races were born with different capacities, different shapes and sizes of heads, different abilities in this field or that field, some born to labor, some not, et cetera, et cetera, but he spent his life at times i think disgusted with even bored with the constant reference to race. as you may know, when his wife anna died, i said -- i didn't have time. i said so little of her. he met anna, a free black woman in baltimore when he's there as a teenager. turns out they had grown up three miles from each other on
the eastern shore. they knew common families together. they probably played at the same mill as children and didn't even know it. she died in 1882, mother of his five children. long and complicated marriage. after she died, he remarried a year and a half later a white woman, helen pitts. considerably younger. she had worked at one point as a kind of secretary in his office. they had by any measure a deep and abiding love and marriage. traveled the world together. there are extraordinary love letter between them. he was pilloried in the press, the black press as well as the white press, the most famous black man in the world just married a white woman and his own children weren't comfortable with it will. this was 1884, not 1984 or 2012. his response was generally thank you very much.
i will love and marry whom i wish. which is a very modern notion. at a time where racial ideas, oh, god, were self-wrought. what he was called though to get to your question, was generally a colored man. or a negro. the term black was not used that often. he was also called the "n" word lots and lots and lots of times in his life, even on posters. n word fred to appear tonight, meet at such and such a street corner. mobs were organized sometimes to try to attack him at public speeches by that kind of phrasing on an alternative poster to the abolition poster. so this is a man that lived every day, this american deeply american problem of racial
identity. but i can also tell you this. he never ever stopped trying to figure out who his father was because not only did he want to know who his father was, he knew his father was white, but a lot depended on that. who his half-brothers and sisters actually were depended on that, and he remembered them on the eastern shore. and in fact, when thomas auld was on his deathbed in the mid 1880s, douglass, by then a famous man, almost four times he went back to the eastern shore this time with press following him, he went to thomas auld's deathbed in st. michael's maryland, maryland, essentially to ask him, are you or aren't you. he never found out. which in part becomes circumstantial evidence that auld was probably not his father but one of the reasons he went
there, we think, was to pop that question. i can also tell you that upon his first ever visit back to maryland's eastern shore, the week after maryland became a free state in december, 1864, he went back to baltimore for the first time, free baltimore. he gave a speech. among the people that came up to him afterward was a black woman, a bit older than him. she walked up to him and said, frederick, i'm your sister eliza. how you doing? i named my first son for you. he had a large extended family. black and white. and he spent a good deal of
energy just trying to figure that out. it makes him in some ways a prototype of thousands if not millions of other americans who either seek to discover the multiracial character of their families and their past or who find out about it when someone tells them. yes, sir? >> did lincoln and douglas meet? yes. >> and i'd be interested, what was lincoln's impressing? what did lincoln state or say about douglass? >> well, yes, they met. they met three times, almost a fourth. to make a long story short, the first is in august of 1863 at the white house. not by invitation. douglass kind of forced his way in on first visit. he went to washington. he got notes of introduction. eventually from the secretary of war as well as senator pomeroy and others. he went to essentially levy a protest against the methods by which black troops were being recruited.