David Blight’s voice has become very familiar to me – I listened to his entire Yale iTunes U course on the Civil War, and have sought out his podcast appearances since then. This is the first time I’ve seen him speak, and this brief clip from a 2009 interview beautifully summarises Douglass’ life. By all accounts, Blight beautifully expounds on Douglass’ life, too, in a weighty new biography released recently. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.
Another great article from the reliably great Immigrant’s Civil War blog. Here’s Frederick Douglass speaking on the post-bellum efforts to curb Chinese immigration.
Douglass declared that the people of the United States were not racially, ethnically, or religiously homogeneous. Americans, he argued, are a “composite nation,” a people made up from many peoples. In recognition of this fact, he declared, “we should welcome to our ample continent all nations, …tongues and peoples; and as fast as they learn our language and comprehend the duties of citizenship, we should incorporate them into the American body politic. The outspread wings of the American eagle are broad enough to shelter all who are likely to come.”
A play about Lincoln is currently playing at Ford’s Theater, and it sounds pretty good. I was supposed to visit a friend in DC last weekend, and I’m kind of kicking myself now at missing this. If you’re in the area, it might be worth checking out!
(I’m ashamed to say my first thought on reading the review was “what if another actor shoots Lincoln?” The world would surely fold in upon itself.)
Selby’s sly, earthy Lincoln and Wallace’s dignified, fiercely determined Douglass spar about war, peace, politics, and moral courage. Douglass confronts Lincoln about the discriminatory treatment of black recruits in the Union army and their worse fate when captured by Confederate forces. He decries what he views as Lincoln’s tardiness in signing the Emancipation Proclamation and urges the president to think seriously about the citizenship status of freed slaves after the war. (The play notes that Douglass also supported women’s suffrage but argued, first things first.) Lincoln, who fears he’ll lose the next election, warns Douglass of the danger of moving too fast for the electorate or even the Union military. In another telling moment, Selby’s Lincoln admits with embarrassment verging on physical pain how much he craves the power of the presidency, and fears it is the sin of pride. In some of the play’s best, most human moments, Hellesen imagines the two men finding common ground and a commmon bond in the pain of losing a child, the memory of a brutally hard upbringing, the loneliness of becoming a self-made man, and the sacrifice of devoting one’s life to a cause.
In these troubled times, we could use an ass-kickin’ civil rights campaigner. This university just discovered a lock of Frederick Douglass’ hair. Someone clone him stat!