Here it is, the last day of the month, and I’m finally getting around to writing something about Black History Month. That’s wrong.
When I was a kid, BHM was a big deal. You’d see commercials about it on television all month long, there’d be posters all around our school, and we’d have special lessons and projects, too. Now the entire month goes by with barely a blip.
I asked my 10-year-old son Thomas, “Did you do anything at school for Black History Month?”
He sighed heavily. (I'm getting that a lot these days for some reason.) “Well, Benjamin (not his real name) gave a book report about George Washington Carver, and we read about Rosa Parks.”
Wow. All that?
Sad, sad, sad.
Not that George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks aren’t worthy of classroom time, but this is a little pathetic, is all I’m saying.
So, I figure I should do my part.
Here are a few facts about one of my favorite African American figures, Frederick Douglass. (And yes, I know Douglass is a BHM staple too, but dude is really, really interesting.)
Facts About Frederick Douglass (With a Little Opinion Thrown in for Good Measure)
- Douglass was born a slave in February 1818, which is one of the reasons BHM is celebrated in February, NOT because February is the shortest month of the year. At least … I’m pretty sure month length wasn’t a factor.
- Douglass learned to read and write as a young boy, first being taught by his Mistress (until her husband put the kibosh on that) and then by poor white boys in exchange for bread. (Damn. I don’t know which part of this story is sadder—the idea that there were people worse off than slaves, or the idea of a child sneaking around town offering up chunks of bread in exchange for reading and writing lessons.)
- When he was roughly 20 years old, Douglass fled his Baltimore plantation and landed in New York. Not too long after that, he married Anna Murray and settled in Massachusetts. In 1882, Murray died, and Douglass married his white former secretary. (Yes, you read that correctly. And, I don’t want to judge, but … I ... ah …. Oh, never mind.)
- In 1841, Douglass spoke before a white audience in Nantucket, Massachusetts. His speech was so well received that he was hired as a full-time antislavery lecturer by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. However, some doubted Douglass’ story, because he was too well spoken. (Gee, imagine someone being surprised that a black man is articulate? Well, I never!!)
- To prove the naysayers wrong, Douglass wrote his story. In 1845, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, was published. Of course, some claimed that Douglass wasn't the real author.
- For 16 years, Douglass edited a successful black newspaper, successively called The North Star (1847-1851), Frederick Douglass' Paper (1851-1858), and The Douglass Monthly (1859-1863).
- Douglass was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln—Hey! Does that make Douglass the original black friend?—during the Civil War. (I’m guessing, however, that Douglass did NOT advise Lincoln to suggest that all the slaves go back home, already. Apparently at his wits' end that the war hadn’t yet ended, Lincoln had the (cough) brilliant idea that the slaves be colonized. You know… since we *all* were having such a hard time getting along, perhaps an amicable parting would make it all better, yo?)
- Douglass died of heart failure in 1895, ending a well-lived life as a speaker, writer, abolitionist, and civil rights activist.
Learn more about Douglass on Biography.com.