February is Black History Month and February 2019 marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass. Although the exact year and date of Douglass’ birth are unknown, later in life he chose to celebrate it as February 14, 1818.
Despite receiving no formal education, Douglass wrote and published several autobiographies describing his experiences as a slave, including his well-known work, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”
Douglass was an unyielding defender of women’s rights. He wrote “the subject of what is called ‘women’s rights’ has caused me to be denominated a women’s rights man. I am glad to say I have never been ashamed to thus designated.”
“We the people; NOT we the white people,” Douglass proclaimed, “and if the negroes are people, they are included in the benefits for which the Constitution of America was ordained and established.”
On human rights Douglass also wrote, “I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a supposed conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go on the side of humanity.”
On why America should accept immigrants, Douglass provided his thoughts on citizenship: “We should welcome to our ample continent all nations, kindred, 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.” He advocated that immigrants should respect the rule of law; learn to speak English and support the government.
Douglass was a firm believer in personal responsibility “… and if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! … your interference is doing him positive injury.” (“What the Black Man Wants,” 1865)
On the role of government, Douglass had this to say, “The first duty that the National Government owes to its citizens is protection.”
In his lecture on “Self-Made Men, 1865” Douglass emphasized the importance of work when he wrote “We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK! WORK! Not transient and fitful effort, but patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put into.”
Douglass wrote, “Nevertheless, this is no time for the friends of freedom to fold their arms and consider their work at an end. The price for liberty is eternal vigilance.” (“One Day for Poetry and Song,” 1862).
Douglass is as relevant now as he was in 1865, with his empowering values of respect for the Constitution, respect for life, belief in personal responsibility, and support for women’s rights.