Category Archives: Douglass

They called him “the Lion of Anacostia” (HUM225)


Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.


I added a page called Histories and Theories of Race: A Working Bibliography for those interested in following up on the issues raised in class today. 

Remember for Friday we’re interested in what it means to be “within the circle” and FD’s remarks on what WEB DuBois called “sorrow songs”

In that vein, here’s a really nice clip of Jimi Hendrix playing the blues. Note that the blues and spirituals aren’t necessarily from the same root. Blues was considered “profane” music– that is, music you listened to on Saturday night as opposed to Sunday morning. Yet both of these very different forms of music often take as their subject themes of loss and redemption.

Assignment for 1/30

Remember that by Friday you’ll be expected to have read through page 66 of Douglass’s narrative. As you read you might consider the significance of literacy in this text– what it means to Frederick Douglass and how he uses his own burgeoning facility with language to change his situation. What is at issue here isn’t simply some lazy affirmation of education as an indispensable part of individual development, but, frankly, life and death. You might also consider what it means to be a slave. As one possible answer to that question consider the words of George Jackson:

“Slavery is an economic condition. The classical chattel and today’s neoslavery must be defined in terms of economics. The chattel is property, one man exercising the property rights of his established economic order, the other man as that property. The owner can move that property or hold it in one square yard of the earth’s surface; he can let it breed other slaves, or make it breed other slaves; he can sell it, beat it, work it, maim it, fuck it, kill it. But if he wants to keep it and enjoy all of the benefits that property of this kind can render, he must feed it sometimes, he must clothe it agains the elements, he must provide a modicum of shelter. Chattel slavery is an economic condtion which manifests itself in the total loss or absence of self-determination.”

Letter to Fay Stender  4/17/70