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Frederick Douglass: The Freedom of Some, or the Freedom of All?

By Mumia Abu-Jamal  Posted by Hans Bennett (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
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    As the presidential campaign of Senators Hillary Rodham-Clinton (D. NY), and Barack Obama (D. Ill.) continue in their breakneck race to acquire the most delegates (and thus the nomination), various segments of the population have endeavored to pose the questions of whether gender should trump race in this rare historical moment.
    Some have suggested that Sen. Clinton, as a woman, deserves the nomination given the nation's delay in granting women's suffrage until 1920.  Some have argued that because Black men could vote since the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, in 1870.
    Of course, this is a cribbed reading of American history, for passage of a constitutional amendment was one thing, the actual implementation of such a right would be almost a century for half the country.
    It took long and tortuous struggle for the alleged constitutional right to vote to be made real.  For, if the constitution were sufficient, why would a Voting Rights Act (passed in 1965) have been necessary?
    One great Black leader, Frederick Douglass, was an outspoken defender of women's rights, and never stopped being so during his long public career, both before and after the Civil War.
    Indeed, the love of freedom being so close to his heart, when he escaped to England to raise the money to legally purchase his freedom, he used his time there to criticize the conditions of white, poor working classes in England, Scotland and Ireland.  He would write in The Liberator:
                    ...Though I am more closely connected and identified with one class of outraged, oppressed and enslaved people, I cannot allow myself to be insensible to the wrongs and suffering of any part of the great family of man.  I am not only an American slave, but a man, and as such, am bound to use my powers for the welfare of the whole human brotherhood..... I believe that the sooner the wrongs of the whole human family are made known, the sooner those wrongs will be reached.
    When the princely sum of $750 was raised by British friends and supporters, Douglass bought his own freedom, and indeed, had the bill of sale to his own self, placed in his hands.
    When he returned to the U.S., he wrote in his own paper, The North Star, and announced from public women's conventions, that "Right is of no sex."
    When women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton introduced the resolution for women's suffrage in 1848, Douglass was the only man, Black or white, to step forward and support her motion, and argued that political equality was necessary for the complete liberation of women.
    In The North Star of a week after the convention, Douglass reiterated his support, writing,
            Standing as we do upon the watch tower of human freedom, we can not be deterred from an expression of our approbation of any movement, however humble to improve and elevate the character of any members of the human family.... We are free to say that in respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man..... Our doctrine is that  'right is of no sex!'  We therefore bid the women engaged in this movement our humble Godspeed.
    There are few Black leaders, whether they call themselves radicals, liberals, or even conservatives, who do not turn for inspiration to the words and wisdom of Frederick Douglass.
    As an activist, as an agitator, as a premier journalist, as a powerful spokesman, he had few true peers.
    Without a doubt, he was a leader, and not a follower.
    The he informs our steps now, over a century after his passing, is a testament to the clarity of his vision, and the power of his spirit.
    He didn't serve the interests of power, he critiqued it, he assailed it, he used his gifts to push it closer, ever closer, to a more human expression.
    We all live in a world that still bears his imprint.
--(c) '08 maj
[Source: Douglass, Frederick, On Slavery and the Civil War: Selections From His Writings.  (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publ., 2003), pp. 5-6, 13.]
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Hans Bennett is a multi-media journalist mostly focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners. An archive of his work is available at and he is also co-founder of "Journalists for Mumia," (more...)
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