This was supposed to be a Valentine’s Day post about the birth of Frederick Douglass, his life, different types of love, and heart stuff. It still kind of is, and today See, he was born on February 14 by choice. As with most slaves, the actual date of his birth went unrecorded, year included. In honor of Singles Awareness Day, which is technically today, I’m making this post in honor of him. Also, I missed yesterday while celebrating Galentine’s Day and I wanted to impart the wisdom about love I received from reading The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
In reading his autobiography, Douglass showed me a true understanding of love. He taught me the meaning of real loneliness, the evils of ignorance, the power of belief, and the effect of the will. Often defined as a self-made man, my peers of today hold no candle to the bright burning of this man’s soul. I now understand why his co-abolitionists pushed him to publish. Without these words, many would have remained ignorant.
Surprisingly, although almost moved to tears, I shed none. His eloquence maintains a level of reason and a need for focus which deter extreme sentiment. The poise and grace of his diction defy the jagged atrocities he discusses. His orderly recounting provides a logical “safe space” for attempts at comprehension. His reflections on the goodness, hope, and flickerings of opportunity propel you ever onwards. There is no reason to put the work down; to do so would feel like a personal slight to Douglass as if you got up and walked away from a conversation with the man.
I became singly aware of how blessed I am. I all too often, as do most of us, take for granted my loved ones. The mere fact of having more than one, a plurality of people I love, is a miracle. Quite commonly, none of us recognize this. We remain blissfully, blessedly ignorant of true turmoil.
Instead of man owning man, we are now slaves to consumption, ignorance, and ourselves. Although human trafficking is significantly prevalent around the world, the most prescient slavery is self-induced. We obsess over self-love, forgetting the love in all things which comes from the Creator, God. He is all things but most especially love. When focused on self to such extreme degrees, we forget love. We remain singly aware of ourselves, not our fellows deserving such love.
The truest of evils in slavery came from breaking, denying, and forgetting of love. The lengths to which slaveowners and slaves alike forgot love, whether experienced or acted upon, is the truest tragedy. The results of slavery are many and atrocious, but most especially antipathy towards humanity. Denying another’s dignity is evil. There’s no question of this. Slaveowners caused much of this, transferring much of it to their captives intentionally.
It began with the separation of mothers and children. As Douglass recounts in his Narrative, he met with his mother a mere four or five times in his life, before her death in his seventh year. If this is not tragic enough, families were intentionally broken up. Siblings were sold to other plantations as punishment and as a reminder of the slavers’ power.
If this weren’t enough, marriage was not allowed. This is a familiar harkening to Roman rule under Emperor Claudius, wherein St. Valentine was supposedly beheaded for his secret marrying of young couples (Kithcart). The splitting of families and the prevention of marriage are not the worst of it, though. There is still the bastardization of family and fatherhood with slavers’ fornication of their property. No love or favor could be shown or the illegitimate child suffered at the hands of the master’s wife or his very own siblings (Douglass).
Corruption of family, paternity, fraternity, and man and woman broke the African people. As survivors know, you can be strongest at broken places when you put them back together. Forced to new plantations, deprived of love and community, denied their humanity, they came together. Their songs of loss proved their resilience, as much as their hope (Douglass). They were and still are a fractured people, but now their songs have changed into one of progress. Stories like that of Frederick Douglass prove as much.
Separation from his mother did not stop him. Douglass’s grandmother cared for him until he was sent to another plantation. Even then, he occasionally saw her. If anything, his experience of a fractured family did nothing but encourage his cultivation of community. He treated the Union as a maternal figure with slavery as a disease of its heart (Smith, S.) To fix it, he found new ways to bring people together.
One kind mistress began his journey out of Socrates’ cave when she first introduced him to letters. Her moment of humanity opened doorways she never could’ve fathomed. He began learning his letters on his own after his master denied the wife’s humanity. He did this secretly and when moved to another plantation, he bonded with local boys over learning letters and sharing knowledge. Douglass eventually founded his own Sabbath school to teach, more formally, his fellow slaves (Douglass). This was done secretly, as learning was forbidden. I can’t imagine the punishment which might’ve befallen him teaching them.
[My fellow-slaves]… were noble souls; they not only possessed loving hearts, but brave ones. We were linked and interlinked with each other. I loved them with a loved stronger than any thing I have experienced since.
His courage to share his life story inspired fellow slaves and abolitionists. It brought others together brave enough to champion change. He recruited freedmen into the Union for the Civil War. He met Abraham Lincoln and other prominent figures of the time. He never stopped bringing people together, though. Even today, his story inspires those championing civil rights, as well as souls like myself, to not take their loved ones for granted.
Even with his selected birthday’s coincidence on Valentine’s Day and its subsequent lessons of love, his death also teaches us. Douglass died of a heart attack on February 20, 1895. Unfortunately, this still remains a significant problem for African Americans.
- 50% of Blacks between the ages of 40 and 59 years of age have hypertension, while only 30% of Whites in the same age group suffer from the ailment.
- The prevalence rate of congestive heart failure is 2% among Blacks and Whites; however, among those 60 years and older, the rate is 9% among Blacks and 6% among Whites.
- The overall prevalence of stroke is higher among Blacks than Whites. Among those who are 60 years or older, 11% of Blacks and only 7% of whites report having had a stroke.
- However, the prevalence of high total cholesterol is lower for Blacks than Whites (13% and 19%, respectively). (Smith, N.)
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative Of The Life Of Fredrick Douglass.
“Frederick Douglass”. PBS, 2019, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1539.html.
Kithcart, David. “St. Valentine, The Real Story”. The Christian Broadcasting Network, http://www1.cbn.com/st-valentine-real-story.
Smith, Nicole. “Frederick Douglass: A Heart For His People”. BDO, 2018, https://blackdoctor.org/1897/frederick-douglas-and-heart-disease/.
Smith, Stephanie A. “Heart Attacks: Frederick Douglass’s Strategic Sentimentality.” Criticism, vol. 34, no. 2, 1992, pp. 193–216. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23113507.