Time has a way of sanding off the rough edges of historical memory, turning even the most convulsive, contentious lives into opportunities for national triumphalism and self-congratulation. With “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,”the historian David W. Blight wants to enrich our understanding of an American in full who, for more than half his life, wasn’t even legally recognized as such. Now that Douglass is enshrined on his pedestal, shorn of what made him “thoroughly and beautifully human,” Blight notes how the “old fugitive slave” has been “adopted by all elements in the political spectrum,” eager to claim him as their own.
Plenty has been written about Douglass in the 200 years since he was born, not least by Douglass himself, who recounted his life story in three autobiographies — a paper trail of memoirs that Blight deems “both a pleasure and peril” for the biographer. In tracing an arc from bondage to freedom, Douglass cast himself as a “self-made hero,” Blight writes, while leaving “a great deal unsaid.” A number of other books have filled in the gaps — exploring Douglass’s relationships with the women in his life, for instance, as well as his fraught and transformative friendship with Abraham Lincoln — but Blight’s is the first major biography of Douglass in nearly three decades, making ample use of materials in the private collection of a retired doctor named Walter O. Evans to illuminate Douglass’s later years, after the Civil War.
Blight, who has edited and annotated volumes of Douglass’s autobiographies, undertakes this project with the requisite authority and gravity. The result is comprehensive, scholarly, sober; Blight is careful to tell us what cannot be known, including the persistent mystery of Douglass’s father (who was most likely white, and may have been Frederick’s mother’s owner). On the stuff that’s known, Blight is an attentive if sometimes fastidious guide, poring over speeches and texts with the critical equivalent of a magnifying glass. Douglass, Blight says, was a “man of words,” making this book “the biography of a voice.”
That voice took shape and sharpened over time, but it would return again and again to the banks of the Tuckahoe River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in 1818. Twenty years a slave, then almost nine years a fugitive; as Douglass himself described it in his autobiographies (having adopted his new surname from a Sir Walter Scott poem), the first decades of his life were both thrilling and terrifying. Until his abolitionist allies helped to purchase his freedom in 1846, everything he did felt provisional; he lived with the incessant fear of someone who could be plunged back into captivity at any moment.
Norwegian Air will honor Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and activist who was born a slave in Ulster County, NY, as a “tail fin hero.” Truth’s likeness will appear on the fourth Boeing 737 MAX 8 that Norwegian will take delivery of this month.
The airline, which began flights between Stewart International Airport and Europe in June, regularly honors historical figures from the countries where it operates on the tail fins of its aircraft. Last month, it honored its first American, Benjamin Franklin, as well as Sir Freddie Laker from England and Tom Crean from Ireland on the first three of the six MAXs that it will receive from Boeing this year. The remaining two planes will also honor Americans.
The six planes will be used on Norwegian’s new routes between three East Coast airports and Europe, including Stewart Airport, T.F. Green in Providence, R.I., and Bradley International in Windsor Locks, Conn. In announcing the selection of Truth, Thomas Ramdahl, Norwegian Air’s chief commercial officer, called her “an inspiration and a pioneer” for people around the world.“She is someone who pushed boundaries and challenged the establishment in more ways than one,″ said Ramdahl in a statement.
Truth, among the Smithsonian’s “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time,” was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree around the turn of the 18th century, escaped in 1826 and changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843. A gifted orator, Truth is best known for her dedication to the abolition of slavery and women’s rights, but she also was a proponent of prison reform, property rights and universal suffrage. She died in 1883.
The University of California, San Diego, recently unveiled a new life-size bronze sculpture of Sojourner Truth. Born into slavery, Sojourner Truth became a leading abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights.
The statue, displayed on the campus of Marshall College, is the work of local artist Manuelita Brown, a graduate of the University of California, San Diego. Brown stated that “Sojourner Truth serves as a drum major for social justice, equity and voting rights. It is my hope that the brilliant students and graduates of UC San Diego will be reminded each day as they walk past her of what they can accomplish with a superior education.”
At the ceremony unveiling the new sculpture, Pradeep K. Khosla, chancellor of the University of California San Diego noted that “centrally located, hundreds of campus and local community members will pass by Sojourner Truth each day. Her presence will serve to start conversations about who she was and what she stood for, a reminder of her influence and the need to continually address racial and gender equality.”
According to the latest U.S. Department of Education figures, Blacks make up only 1 percent of the undergraduate student body at the University of California, San Diego. Under state law, race cannot be considered in admissions decisions at the university.
Over a year ago, in an exclusive S&A interview with Giancarlo Esposito regarding his work on Revolution, Breaking Bad, his craft and more, the actor revealed to us that he was developing a project on abolitionist John Brown that he would direct, adding that he would like to make it a miniseries for cable TV. Skip ahead to recent news that Esposito has made progress on the project, which is now titled Patriotic Treason, and has attracted the acting talents of Ed Harris to star as Brown.
Based on the book Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton, the project will not be a miniseries as Esposito originally told us he would prefer, but a feature film, which writer Jose Rivera (Motorcycle Diaries, On The Road) will adapt, with Esposito also co-starring, playing Frederick Douglass. The film will be produced by Spectrum Films, Esposito and Act 4, with a summer 2014 shoot planned.
This is the second John Brown project announced this year. It was in July when it was revealed that another actor, Paul Giamatti, had partnered with FX to develop a mini-series on John Brown, which will trace “the true story of the abolitionist’s transformation from a lowly 50-year old farmer to a notorious anti-slavery freedom fighter in Kansas and his famed 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry.” The project, itself also based on a book, Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz, and which is expected to be 6 to 8 hours in length, is part of a two-year first-look deal Giamatti and partner Daniel Carey’s Touchy Feely Films are under with FX Productions. Gabriel Range is adapting Horwitz’s book.
On Feb. 4, 1986, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp honoring abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth as part of its Black Heritage series.
Sojurner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 on the Hardenbergh plantation in upstate New York. In 1826, Truth managed to escape to freedom and became known as a fearless advocate for enslaved African-Americans and women.
She is best known for her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech that challenged gender and racial inequalities. During the Civil War, Truth became involved in the war effort by recruiting black troops for the Union Army. After the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.
An exhibit honoring African-American historical figures opened Monday at New York’s state Capitol to highlight February as “Black History Month.”
Titled “From Slavery to Citizenship: The African American Experience in New York 1817-1872,” the display chronicles contributions black New Yorkers made during the years following the Civil War and emancipation of slaves.
“New York’s history as a progressive leader really began during this time,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Monday. “The courage of the writers, activists and soldiers, both black and white, who confronted racial inequality set a precedent that would inspire the New Yorkers who followed to lead the nation in the struggle against every type of injustice.”
The exhibit’s timeline starts with 1817, when New York passed a law to enact the gradual emancipation of slaves, and ends in 1872, when abolitionist Frederick Douglass became a member of New York’s Electoral College.
The display includes relevant artifacts, biographies and historical narrative. The artifacts are from collections belonging to the state Archives, the state Library and the state Military Museum.