curated project commemorating the 50th anniversary of 1968 in dc

dedicated to bobby r. hale
4 july 1968 & remembering frederick douglass re dc independence

4 july 1968 & remembering frederick douglass re dc independence

#OTD 4 July 1968 Frederick Douglass had been deceased for 73 years. Throughout 1968, his name and human rights work were regularly invoked in the Frederick Douglass Institute of Negro Arts and History (316-318 A St NE), Frederick Douglass Dwellings, Frederick Douglass JHS, Frederick Douglass United Community Center, Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall at Howard University, and in the #OTD 4 July 1968 activism of Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who joined other Poor Peoples Campaign participants for a picnic on Capitol Hill before they were arrested by the police.

#OTD 5 July 1852 Douglass delivered the speech "What To the Slave is the Fourth of July" in Rochester, York. In this speech, he stated that people of African descent in the U.S. had nothing to celebrate on so-called Independence Day. "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn." 

In 1870, he relocated from Rochester to DC and became active in local politics, including advocating for the ability of the city's men to elect its own representatives. DC had a presidentially appointed commissioner system which consisted of three white men.

On 21 January 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the Citizens’ District Suffrage Petition Association held at Green Hall (1721 Pennsylvania Ave). The focus of the meeting was the presentation of a petition to Congress "setting forth the injustice of depriving the citizens of the District the right to vote, and demanding a change in the present form of government."

This excerpt and encapsulation of Douglass' speech appeared in the Evening Star:

"He said he was present at the meeting to take sides, and to show that he was not afraid to take sides. Neither the frowns nor the smiles of the present government could deter him from expressing his partisanship in the cause of liberty. He often asks himself, he said, what have the people of the District done that they should be excluded from the privileges of the ballot box. Where, when and how did they incur the penalty of taxation without representation? He found no fault with the men who compose the present local government, but recalled the German proverb, that '"Those who hold the cross bless themselves and their friends." He wants to be in a position to bless all of his friends. For instance, he wants public improvements in front of property owned by colored men. 'If you don't know what I mean," he said, just look at 17th street near the boundary."

"He said one objection which had been urged against suffrage in the District is that colored men will have a vote. Well, what if they do? He is willing to trust the ignorant with the wise, because the wise will predominate. In order to disenfranchise one-third of the population, consisting of colored people, the whites have disqualified themselves. "The two-thirds are afraid that will be outvoted and governed by the one-third." He said this is cowardly and mean and small. Mr. Douglass spoke of the contradictory spectacle presented to the ministers of foreign nations by the presence of an unrepresentative form of government at the capital of the most progressive republic on the globe."

Your comments are welcome below. Did you, family members and neighbors visit Frederick Douglass' former homes in Anacostia or Capitol Hill? Were you active in any of the institutions named after him? Did you learn about him in school? Were you active in home rule movements? Did you participate in the PPC picnic? When did you first hear about and read his 4 July speech? You may comment privately here.

Photo source: Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, ca. 1895. C.M. Battey, photographer.

"For District Suffrage," Evening Star 22 January 1895.
John Muller, "The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in Anacostia (Washington, D.C.) as told in the Washington Evening Star," Readex Report, Volume 9, Number 1. 
"Police Prevent Poor People from Holding Capitol Picnic," Washington Post 5 July 1968.
Read 5 July 1852 speech in full here.

5 july 1968 & 2nd annual smithsonian folklife festival

5 july 1968 & 2nd annual smithsonian folklife festival

3 july 1968 & rock creek park

3 july 1968 & rock creek park