Thursday, February 02, 2017

Rise Up, Frederick Douglass.

The autobiographies of Frederick Douglass are FREE.

They are also be the most harrowing, the most lovely, the most forgiving, the most thrilling and the most important books I have or ever will read about the American experience.

Ten years ago or so, while trolling through the "free books" online, randomly enjoying all this new accessibility, I found them. I had heard of Douglass, but like most people, I knew very little about him. I wasn’t researching anything. They were free! That was the promise of this new connectivity.

They weren't easy to read because, at the time, the only copies I could find were photos of the pages in a low-rez pdf.

If you've seen or read "12 Years A Slave," it was nothing compared to what Douglass endured. And then he was friends with Abraham Lincoln.

Born in a shack, naked for much of his early childhood. Illegal for him to be taught. Torn from his mother, who hiked miles every night to hold him just for a moment and then hiked back to start her day as a slave on another plantation.

Started learning when he looked at the master kid’s lessons, surreptitiously. Traded lessons for favors with poor "white trash" kids. Beaten nearly to death multiple times. Then he escaped, helped by an abolitionist.

When he first spoke to an abolitionist group up north, he reports that many/most thought he was like a trained monkey, reciting words that had been given to him. Even those opposed to slavery still had no clue that Black people had minds and brains, and could even be smarter than the self-satisfied White people who lived then (and now).

Faced with his towering intellect, they suddenly realized they were not the smartest people in the room, and they didn't know how to process this.

He should have been the president after Lincoln. Imagine that as an alt-universe.

I’m glad President Trump stumbled over this. It might seem a small thing to those who support him. And who knows? Maybe I’m misjudging him. Maybe he knows all about Frederick Douglass. Maybe that’s just the way he talks. I’m willing to give him benefit of the doubt.

But what I really think needs to happen is for people to learn about Frederick Douglass.

Look in that mirror.

And if you don’t see yourself and your own humanity, go back and pick up his book and read it again.

His story is the epic I’ve been wanting to see dramatized for a decade now. I don’t think I can write it. But I know I can write about him. In fact, I just did.

I think he can teach us a lot more than any of us even know. Thank you, Mr. Trump. Without you, Black History Month would be little more than a series of Google doodles.

Rise up, Frederick Douglass.

Rise up.

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