Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications
We in the Government Publications Department at the University of Memphis feel there are few more fitting subjects to explore during Black History Month than Frederick Douglass. Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and became one of the most towering figures of his time and in all of American history. A tireless orator, abolitionist, and political commentator, he produced autobiographies, speeches, and other works outlining the evils of chattel slavery in the United States. Douglass believed that the nation needed to live up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and shake off the scourge of slavery if it were to reach its full potential and truly provide freedom for all its people. His document “A Lecture on Our National Capital,” first given in 1875, a decade after the end of the American Civil War, was reproduced by the Smithsonian and the National Park Service and is available for check out from our Government Publications department.
In this address, Douglass’ observations of Washington, D.C, serve as a microcosm to the nation at large. He laments the affect slavery and its political influence had on the city in the past, but also contrasts it with the postwar progress made in everything from the attitude of its citizens to new building projects that made it a more livable place. Douglass acknowledges there was still much work to be done; in hindsight we know that it was only the beginning of the ongoing struggle to guarantee rights for African Americans in this country. However, Douglass conveyed a sense of optimism for the future in this lecture, stating his hope that “the best men and the best women from all sections of our widely extended country shall delight to meet and bury their differences.” If you are interested in further exploring Douglass and his place in American history, check out these government resources, along with some supplemental eBooks currently available through McWherter Library.
- Frederick Douglass, The Clarion Voice by John Blassingame
- A Lecture on Our National Capital by Frederick Douglass (also available to read online through the Library of Congress)
- Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.
Online Government Resources
- National Park Service – Frederick Douglass Historic Site and Online Exhibit
- Library of Congress – Frederick Douglass Papers and Online Exhibit
- National Archives – Frederick Douglass, 19th-Century Civil Rights Activist: His Legacy Today
- National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian Institution – Frederick Douglass
McWherter Library eBooks
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
- Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet by D.H. Dilbeck
- The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass: In Pursuit of American Liberty by Nicholas Buccola
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