On this day in 1895, the great American orator and statesman Frederick Douglass passed away. To mark the day, Bookmarks has reproduced a review of Douglass’s 1845 autobiography that ran in The New York Tribune on June 10, 1845.
We wish that every one may read his book and see what a mind might have been stifled in bondage,—what a man may be subjected to the insults of spendthrift dandies, or the blows of mercenary brutes, in whom there is no whiteness except of the skin, no humanity except in the outward form, and of whom the Avenger will not fail yet to demand—’Where is thy brother?’
Narrative was well-received, selling close to 30,000 copies by 1860.
For those of us who believe in turning the other cheek (or at least we believe in the one who said we should turn the other cheek, whether or not we think at all about cheek-turning), civility is never futile. But it may be ignored.
The Intercollegiate Review is talking about civility this season. Alexandra Hudson notes the example of most American abolitionists. William Lloyd Garrison “knew that true civility was more than trivial courtesy or naive ‘niceness.’ Civility requires taking our opponents’ dignity seriously, which means taking their ideas seriously, and that sometimes requires forceful and robust argumentation.” Frederick Douglass said, “’If there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ But for Douglass,” Hudson explains, “‘struggle’ did not mean winning at any cost. He knew that if he was to ensure that all enjoyed the advantages of the rule of law, he could not undermine the rule of law in the process.”
Here’s a word from Douglass that still resonates today: “Had the pulpit been faithful, we might have been saved from this withering curse.”
Gracy Olmstead recommends pulling back from our current hot spots and talking face to face.
This would help take the hot air out of online debates and put such discourse back into a humane context. It would also help citizens remember their duty to the physical spaces and neighborhoods around them. The decline of civility is part of a larger trend toward isolation in our society—a pulling away that, while not caused by the internet, has certainly been exacerbated by it.
This seems appropriate for this week. It’s an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom.
The frequent hearing of my mistress reading the Bible — for she often read aloud when her husband was absent — soon awakened my curiosity in respect to this mystery of reading, and roused in me the desire to learn. Having no fear of my kind mistress before my eyes, (she had then given me no reason to fear,) I frankly asked her to teach me to read ; and, without hesitation, the dear woman began the task, and very soon, by her assistance, I was master of the alphabet, and could spell words of three or four letters. Continue reading Reading Fosters Freedom