This post comes from member Jonathan Sprout.
Earlier this month, President Trump said, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.” Since he did not cite reasons for Mr. Douglass’ recognition, I’d like to share this information about the man Abraham Lincoln looked up to.
Frederick Douglass (1818-95) escaped the master’s whip at the age of 20 when he fled North from Maryland, disguised as a sailor. He quickly became a strong voice for civil rights whose lecturing and reasoning were so impressive that opponents refused to believe he had been a slave. A beacon of morality whose vision transcended race and gender, he wrote books and published a newspaper discussing both the evils of slavery and the rights of women.
Douglass believed the best way he could help bring about change for the better was by inspiring people to become activists. He saw the importance of exciting others, of shaking things up in order to get people to want to change for the better. We must “agitate,” he would say. We must stir people up and shake them out of believing their lives cannot be improved.
Legend has it that on February 20, 1895, a young black man who attended Douglass’ powerful lecture that evening was so inspired, he went straight to Douglass’ hillside home on the outskirts of Washington DC. Hoping to speak with his hero, the young man waited patiently on the front steps of the Douglass house. When Douglass arrived home, the young man asked for his advice. What could he do to help the cause of African Americans? After slowly climbing the broad steps, the weary Douglass reportedly turned around and responded with three words: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” He then quietly entered his home.
Those may have been Mr. Douglass’ last words. That evening, his wife found him collapsed in the foyer, just inside the front door. Frederick Douglass was dead at the age of 77.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who favor freedom without agitation want crops without plowing … they want rain without thunder and lightning.” — Frederick Douglass