Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Until We Are All Free, We Are None Free

On this day in 1838, Frederick Douglass -- born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey and having spent his first twenty years of life as a slave -- escaped his bonds to freedom. Inspired by William Lloyd Garrison, who ultimately became a supporter, young Douglass soon began telling his story to standing room only audiences on the abolitionist circuit.

When he published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, still in print and widely read to this day, some (White people, no doubt) couldn't believe a person raised in slavery could write so eloquently. You can read the part recounting his third and finally successful escape attempt here.

By the time he died at the age of seventy-seven, Douglass had become recognized all over the world for his political work, his writings, and the newspapers he edited. Of more immediate interest in light of Obama's campaign for the Presidency is the fact that, at the Republican National Convention in 1888 (back before they become the present-day Democratic Party), Douglass garnered the first vote for an African-American man in a major party's roll call vote, even though he was married to a European-American feminist at the time.

Here's a poem to remind us that until we are all free, Douglass' work goes on.

~~Frederick Douglass~~
by Robert E. Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.


Rethabile said...

That's one of my favourite poems of all time. Awesome man, this Douglass, awesome poet, this Hayden. Thanks for sharing this.

Changeseeker said...

And thanks for dropping by to read it, Rethabile. To me, poetry is the soul of writing. In fact, in my opinion, when fiction or even non-fiction is at its best, it reads like poetry. I strive for that feel in everything I write. I seldom succeed, but I reach for it and once in a while, it happens.