On the Legacy of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass and his paternal great-great-grandson, Lloyd Weaver (Photos via BK Reader)

To mark the bicentennial birthday of Frederick Douglass, who was born on Feb. 14, 1818, his great-great-grandson Lloyd Weaver spoke at a Feb. 26 panel hosted by the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College and AKILA WORKSONGS in Brooklyn. Prior to the event, BK Reader’s Andrea Leonhardt interviewed Weaver, a writer and TV producer born in 1941 and raised in Harlem, about Douglass’ legacy, particularly in the era of the Trump administration.

In one of her questions, Leonhardt said: “This current climate, the continuous attack on civil rights, women’s rights that now under the Trump administration appears to be more blatant  – do you think it could offer the opportunity for discourse among all Americans, or is it wishful thinking?”

LW: I think that is wishful thinking. Americans have a heritage. Their heritage has been defined by their founding fathers and the documents that they wrote which defined what America would be. And America has always been true to that heritage. That heritage encompasses the word racism.

I don’t necessarily even fault people for being on their own side. W.E.B. Du Bois once said: “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” As a sociologist, he knew that people are functioning in groups and ultimately those groups are the Black and the White. And Douglass began to advocate for other issues at a time when he was sure when the issue of color was going in the right direction. He would have never imagined the horrors that we lived through the last 150 years. The point where we are now was always inevitable. Frederick Douglass would say: “See – we must have our own, we most control our own destiny through social and economic ownership.”

Over the years, we have successfully fought and gained certain advantages. But we always had to fight to control and maintain them. The gains that we have made are falling apart. Our community schools are dreadful, even disappearing. hospitals and health facilities are moving away from our communities. The employment sector – we all know about that despite the manipulations of facts and figures the present administration is always trying to put in our face. Gentrification shows that we are even losing our neighborhoods, we are being scattered. Our ability to struggle together is increasingly difficult.

Weaver also spoke about the influence of Douglass in his own life, why his great-great-grandmother Anna Murray Douglass “should be in the mouths and hearts of all African-American people, along with Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth,” and his thoughts on why Douglass “was too optimistic.” Read the full interview at BK Reader.

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