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In honor of the Centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, we are featuring a piece in our local newspaper every month about a famous suffragist.
In February, we featured abolishionist and suffragist, Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)

By Allen Silver

 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an
inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

                                                    – Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham jail, April 1963

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Perhaps these gripping words would also have stirred Frederick Douglass
over one hundred fifty years earlier as he worked to abolish slavery and grant suffrage to women and African Americans.

Hunted, beaten, denied basic personhood, educated under threat of punishment, yet telling his story through voice, memoirs, and newspaper articles, Douglass was known throughout his travels in the Eastern United States, the Midwest, and Great Britain. Accounts of his and others’ bondage, and the need for inclusion and reform, spoke clearly of the need for equal access to those “inalienable rights” advocated by Thomas Jefferson in 1776.

 

Douglass was supported by many and supported others. He worked with notables like Harriet Tubman, William Garrison, Elizabeth Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. His wife, Anna Murray, sacrificed much to support him and keep the family going while he was in Great Britain. Abolitionists had raised funds to send him there for two years when threats of his recapture arose. Those same folks and others purchased his freedom for a princely sum, so he could return to the U.S. and continue his work.

As a publisher of the abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, and through his association with the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, he was invited to the First Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. He wrote:

“All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; … there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land.”

After the Civil War, it became clear to him that to gain passage of the 15th amendment, which granted black men the vote, he must drop his endorsement of women’s suffrage as part of the bill. Combined, he feared both would fail. Even so, he remained an avid supporter of women’s suffrage until his death in 1895. Justice was equal in his eyes. Across the centuries, Frederick Douglass is
a powerful example of what can be accomplished by the resolve of a noble-minded network.

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This is the first of a series of articles honoring the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.

Sponsored by: Law Office of Jim Cherry, Law Office of Sally Chenault, Frank Russell Attorney at Law, Tuolumne County Bar Association, National Hotel and Restaurant, and Members of LWVML

Quotes from Frederick Douglass

"At any rate, seeing that the male governments of the world have failed, it can do no harm to try the experiment of a government by man and woman united."

"Woman, however, like the colored man, will never be taken by her brother and lifted to a position. What she desires, she must fight for.

"A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman."

"Woman should have justice as well as praise, and if she is to dispense with either, she can better afford to part with the latter than the former."

"On putting a priority, after the Civil War, on votes for African Americans males before women in general] When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lampposts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement;... then they will have the urgency to obtain the ballot."

 

On the status of Black southerners after passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments as “in law free, in fact slave; in law a citizen, in fact an alien; in law a voter, in fact disenfranchised…"

More Insights

  • Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, Douglass took his last name from a character in Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

  • After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass worked tirelessly to enlist black soldiers, and two of his sons joined the 54th Massachusetts Regiment

  • Passage of the 15th amendment, granting suffrage to black men, casued a schism between women suffragists and Duglass. Read more here

  • Douglass' last speech was to the
    National Council of Women in 1895;
    he died of a heart attack suffered the evening of the speech.