The story of blacks in America has been framed in many different ways. Today, whether through the headlines in traditional media outlets or through #blacklivesmatter movement, that story is viewed most often through the lens of black victimhood. This is understandable. Africans came first to North America on the bottom of slave ships, and endured over 250 years of forced bondage and many decades more of legally enforced discrimination.
But that is not the only way to view the story. The story of African Americans can also be seen as one of remarkable resilience and unbelievable triumph over adversity. A man who exemplifies this second point of view is Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. He was separated from his mother as a young child and sold away from his grandmother by the age of seven. After the learning the alphabet from his master’s wife (who was later castigated by her husband), he taught himself to read and write in secret. He soon began reading the Bible, newspapers, pamphlets and books, developing a strong faith and a forceful intellect.
As a teenager, Douglass resisted the brutal and oppressive conditions in which he lived by every means available to him. He taught other slaves to read the Bible, physically bested a farmer who had beaten him repeatedly, and escaped his master three times. He was recaptured twice, but the third time he successfully made it to New York City and began a new life there. He married a free black woman, Anna Murray—with whom he had five children. Having been robbed of his own childhood, he took fatherhood seriously, remarking, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Douglass was ordained as a minister in the AME Zion Church and became frequent speaker in the cause of abolition all over the world. He published his first autobiography, which became a bestseller—enabling him to purchase his freedom legally—and later published two other memoirs about his remarkable life, which included serving as the American ambassador to Haiti.
Douglass had experienced firsthand the brutality and misery of slavery, yet he never advocated for pity or special treatment for blacks. He asked only for equal protection under the law, explaining:
“Everybody has asked the question. . .’What shall we do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. 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!”
Frederick Douglass overcame the obstacles in his life through determination and faith in God, and his story serves as a model for those who want to see all Americans prosper, regardless of race or the circumstances into which someone is born. Douglass was an activist who fought successfully to transform American society during his lifetime, and he found his model of justice in the Bible. Inspired by this ideal, the Douglass Leadership Institute exists to continue his legacy by educating, equipping, and empowering faith-based leaders to embrace and apply biblical principles to life and in the marketplace.
Douglass worked alongside the white leaders of his day, but he never shied away from speaking honestly when he thought it served his cause, even challenging President Lincoln himself on a number of occasions. “I have one great political idea. . . . That idea is an old one. It is widely and generally assented to; nevertheless, it is very generally trampled upon and disregarded. The best expression of it, I have found in the Bible. It is in substance, ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation; sin is a reproach to any people’ [Proverbs 14:34]. This constitutes my politics – the negative and positive of my politics, and the whole of my politics. . . . I feel it my duty to do all in my power to infuse this idea into the public mind, that it may speedily be recognized and practiced upon by our people.”
To learn more about Frederick Douglass or DLI, please visit www.dlinstitute.org.
Dean Nelson is the National Outreach Director at Online for Life, working out the Washington D.C. area. He is also the Chairman of the Board for the Frederick Douglass Foundation. He has worked for other major pro-life and Christian organizations including CareNet and Global Outreach Campus Ministries. Rev. Nelson also served as part of the Wellington Boone Ministries’ senior strategic planning team, which planted ministries in capital cities like Richmond, Virginia, Atlanta, Georgia, Raleigh, North Carolina and the greater Washington, DC area.
The views expressed in opinion articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Black Community News.