Monday, September 30, 2013

Frederick Douglas by Philip S. Foner

This biography introduces one of the greatest American personalities in American history.  Mr. Douglas, a former slave becomes one of the most articulate spokesmen for the abolitionist movement. He becomes a foremost activist for the causes of abolition, negro suffrage , women's suffrage and other civil rights.  He speaks out against the colonization movement, the demand for the black populace to go back to Africa because white America can not seem to amalgamate black people into white society.

One striking feature of this bio is that the author records the observations of Karl Marx, founder of Socialism/Communism.  Marx was keenly observing what was going on during the Civil War because he was sure that the economic revolution would be triggered by the overwhelming work force of newly emancipated slaves!  Although what Marx predicted did not come to fruition, nevertheless the upheaval and struggle for black rights is well detailed here.

Mr Douglas has his fans among white society.  At first he aligns with William Lloyd Garrison in the cause for abolition.  Garrison turns on Douglas because Douglas questions Garrison's need for radicalism.  Mr. Douglas gains a following in England and is joined by the white Julia Griffiths who becomes indispensable in cranking out his periodicals and newsletters.  Speculation about their relationship creates a stir and is used to attack him.  Some claim that perhaps Griffiths edited and tutored Douglas because his articulation of ideas and his oratory are too fantastic to believe originating from a former slave.  Mr. Douglas feels compelled to write his own memoir to stop the speculation about his integrity.  Griffiths ends up leaving him so as to not upset the equilibrium of his family.  Curiously, after his wife dies, he marries an educated white women to the chagrin of the black community.  He, nevertheless, explains that he always believed in humanism and has always been colorblind.

The book details the nightmare of Reconstruction, the hatred of blacks and the murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan.  And throughout the entire period, Frederick Douglas is constantly agitating not only for the betterment of his people but also for women's rights.  He shows courage to speak out.  Newspapers throughout the USA testify to his amazing oratory skill by following his career as a lecturer and adult educator.

The book teaches us how the Republican party was originally the party of choice for the black man and Frederick Douglas was steadfast in his support of it.  The Democratic party represents Southern interests and prejudice.  Not until after the Grant administration does the Republican party seem to abandon the black man's plight and align with big business ignoring past pledges.

This is an inspiring, excellent introduction to the origins of the politics of Black America and of one of its greatest spokesmen.

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