- About Us
- Contact Us
Release Date: February 24, 2017
After the new administration’s first Black History Month event included a general reference to 19th century lion Frederick Douglass as “somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more,” Frederick Douglass’s descendants jumped in with their own clarification:
“The President’s comments from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, about Frederick Douglass, were noted and appreciated by us, the Douglass family. In fact, we believe, if he had more time to elaborate, the President would have mentioned the following:
‘Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job …
They concluded: “Like the President, we use the present tense when referencing Douglass’s accomplishments because his spirit and legacy are still very much alive, not just during Black History Month, but every month.”
A similar response could have been prepared just a few days later when the Department of Education shared a quote by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois that misspelled his name. We may not be able to react to every mistake or omission made about Black or Latino or Asian American or Native American or immigrant or women’s history. But we can certainly make sure our children know the correct and full truth. We can make sure they know W.E.B. DuBois was one of the first great Black Civil Rights and intellectual leaders. He was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and a founding leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and founding editor of its journal The Crisis. He wrote many influential books and articles, including the classic The Souls of Black Folk, and remained a tireless crusader for the rights of Black people around the world until his death in Ghana at age 95 on August 28, 1963, the same day as the March on Washington. We can also make sure we know and teach our children not just who Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois are, but some of the lessons they taught us.
In a time when lies about non-existent widespread voter fraud threaten to reinforce and escalate a new era of targeted and pernicious voter suppression, we can reread this warning from The Souls of Black Folk: “Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud, -- and behold the suicide of a race! . . . The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defense, -- else what shall save us from a second slavery?”
In a time where fears about unprecedented abuses of power are being matched by record-setting mass displays of nonviolent resistance, we can remember what Frederick Douglass said in 1857: “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 depreciate 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. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”
This is a time for struggle for the soul and future of our nation. It is not a time to be silenced by fear or deadly apathy. It is a time for truth and courage. Only the truth will set us free.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.
Let us know what you think about this column:
Here's what others have said: