Monday, July 29, 2013

The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Douglass (c)

The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Douglass
Note:  This essay is based on Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:  an American Slave Written by Himself.  John Blessingame, John R. McKivigan, and Peter P. Hinks, eds.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2001. 


     I have been fascinated with Frederick Douglass for over ten years.   What an amazing story he has!  Born a slave, he escaped to freedom and became a world-renowned orator, author, minister, and activist.  Along the way, he developed convictions that still ring true, especially those regarding free speech, justice, and education.
     Douglass was truly a self-educated man, stating:  “Read and you will forever be free.”   Learning to read was the catalyst for Douglass, the orator and statesman.   His master’s wife provided him with the basics and when Douglass surpassed her expertise, he sought out books to keep him on the path to literacy.
    One book in particular made a lasting impression on the young Douglass, and that book was The Colombian Orator.  At age twelve, Douglass devoured it, memorizing passages, then pacing the floor while he practiced his delivery.  Scholars believe that this determination was a factor in Douglass’ transformation into an orator respected across the country and around the world.  In his later years, Douglass spent about six months out of the year traveling in the United States and abroad giving lectures.  Following are some up-lifting quotations from the speeches of Frederick Douglass:
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
“Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.”
“To educate a man is to unfit him to be a slave.”
“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
“What is possible for me is possible for you.”   
     The impact of Frederick Douglass on the history of our country, especially in the area of civil rights, was impressive.  Martin Luther King, Jr. shared Douglass’ ideology for equality of all people.  King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech echoes a speech given by Douglass called "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"  Both men scolded a nation for espousing equality, while ignoring conditions that forced blacks into poverty.
     Fast-forward forty years to the election of President Barack Obama.  In remarks at the Democratic Convention in 2008, then Senator Obama, delivered what has become known as his “Yes, We Can” speech.  It reflects the optimism and encouragement of Frederick Douglass advice that what was “possible for me is possible for you.”
 I developed the framework for this essay while attending the American Memory Institute at the Library of Congress.  American Memory is the digital archive for millions of documents, photographs, speeches, letters, film, music, and paintings, related to the history of the United States.  Created by an act of Congress in 1990, American Memory was the brainchild of James Billington, the Librarian of Congress at that time.  He had a vision to share historic images that previously could only be viewed by appointment at the Library. 
     Because of the depth of research possible at the library of Congress, my colleague and I (along with twenty-three other teachers from across the Nation) were able to draft a lesson plan outline to aid high school students in the study of Frederick Douglass.  Our group’s completed lesson plans were displayed on the American Memory website for viewing by teachers and students everywhere.
     What makes Frederick Douglass’ life extraordinary is his transformation from slave to abolitionist to world-class citizen.  Even though descriptions of his harsh circumstances may still make us cringe, the eloquence of those descriptions are ingrained in our memories.  

The Early Years      

               To understand the full impact of Douglass’ life, it is important to start at the beginning.  While there is no accurate record of his birth, it is believed that he was born in 1818, in Talbot County, Maryland.  In his Narrative, Douglass describes his father as “a white man,” “the master of the plantation.”  He never knew his name.  Frederick never knew for sure who his father was.
     The mother of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Bailey, was said to be “both colored and quite dark.” As was the custom then, she was separated from her son, who was “hired out” to another Maryland farm.  Douglass gives no reason for this travesty, other than to “blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child.” (p. 14).  For this was the effect his mother’s disappearance had on the boy.  He only saw her five times in his entire life.  Harriet would risk her life to visit her son, walking the entire distance after working in the fields all day.  Then she would soothe her son to sleep, and leave the next morning.  When Frederick was seven, he heard that his mother had died.
     In his early years, Frederick experienced great hardship.  In his Autobiography, he writes that: “in the hottest summer and coldest winter, I was kept almost naked – no shoes, no stockings, no stockings, no trousers, nothing on but a coarse tow linen shirt, reaching only to my knees.  I had no bed.  I must have perished with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill.  I would crawl into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and feet out.  My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes.” (28)
     Frederick also witnessed the suffering of others.  He wrote in painful detail about the flogging of his “Aunt Hester,” whose only mistake had been her absence on a night when her master desired her.   Recalling the tragedy, Frederick wrote that his aunt was “taken into the kitchen and stripped from neck to waist…her hands were crossed and tied with a strong rope, and she was led to a stool under a large hook in the joist…He made her get on the stool, and tied her hands to the hook.  She now stood fair for his infernal purpose.  Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood upon the ends of her toes…after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowhide, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heart rending shrieks from her and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor.  I was so terrified that I hid in the closet, and dared not venture out till long after the bloody transaction was over.  I expected it would be my turn next…I had never seen anything like it before.” (16-17)
     Most appalling was the master’s defense for the mistreatment by quoting from the Bible.   Douglass was an eye-witness to the following incident:  “I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty.  As one example, I will state one of the many facts going to prove the charge.  I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture – ‘He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’” (44). 
     Another shocking aspect of slave life was the lack of decent food.  A typical day went like this:  “Our food was coarse corn meal boiled.  This was called mush.  It was poured into a wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground.  The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons.  He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied.” (28)
     At the age of fifteen, Douglass had an epiphany, and set about to break the chains of slavery.  First, he stood up to his master, a Mr. Covey, fighting him for two hours.  With his master now beaten, Douglass felt his “long-crushed spirit” rise, leaving defiance in its place.  This was the turning point for Douglass, who resolved that “however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” (54)  He began to plot his escape from bondage, first by boat and then by train.
In 1835, Frederick Douglass successfully escaped to freedom by train and by boat.  Boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland, he was given identification papers by a free black, and donned a sailor’s uniform.  He then crossed the Susquehanna by ferry and traveled by train to Wilmington, Delaware.  At Wilmington, he took a steamship to Philadelphia, and continued on the New York.
Here is howDouglass described his new-found freedom:  ‘I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me…  I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe…Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil." (The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 170).
    From this point on, Douglass was blessed with good fortune and support.  His first speech at New Bedford, Massachusetts was met with wide acclaim.  For the next sixty years, his life was filled with many accomplishments and honors, among them:  successful journalist and owner of the North Star newspaper; friend to President Lincoln; appointment to U. S. Marshall; appointment to the office of Recorder of Deeds in Washington, D. C.; candidate for Vice-President of the United States; supporter of equal rights for women; widely traveled lecturer.
      After his death in 1895, a monument to him was built in Rochester, New York, where he had published the North Star newspaper.  His home, Cedar Hill, in Washington, D. C. became a National Historic Site.  A U. S. postage stamp was created in his honor and many of his original documents are held at the Library of Congress.
    I believe that one of his greatest legacies is that his autobiography is required reading in schools and colleges across the United States.  His words live on and continue to inspire us as they continue to remind us to keep believing in ourselves.




Saturday, July 27, 2013

Knee Replacement Surgery

       The cartilage is worn out in both my knees from arthritis.  I've been able to manage the function of my knees and the pain through diet, exercise, and medication.  My new surgeon is Dr. Scott Kelly of Duke, and I see him in October for another evaluation.  When I last saw him in April, I elected not to have the surgery anytime soon because the function in my legs is still high and I don't have to use a cane.  I used to, but I don't now.
       A couple of people have told me (no medical professionals) -- "don't wait too long to have your surgery."  I guess the reasoning for this is -- well, I'm not sure what it is.  And I'm still not ready.

Here's an article from the New York Times:

After reading this, I need to decide whether the worn out cartilage alone is grounds for having the surgery.  I'll touch base with the surgeon again in October.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Today's Inspiration

     I like to collect quotations and here is a favorite:  "He does not believe that does not live by his belief."
     For me, this means that I need to let my actions reflect my beliefs.  Actions of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, regardless of what my thoughts may be.
     The quote was written by Thomas Fuller, a 17th century churchman who was one of the first English writers to be able to live by his writings.  His book, "Worthies of England," was published after his death.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"The Art of Sleeping Alone"

     This is the title of a new book that is coming out.  The author, a French woman,  went without sex for 12 years and feels that no sex is better than disappointing sex.  She has a point there!

      Here's a link to the full article from the New York Times:

"The Art of Sleeping Alone"


     This is the title of a new book that is coming out.  The author, a French woman,  went without sex for 12 years and feels that no sex is better than disappointing sex.  She has a point there!

      Here's a link to the full article from the New York Times:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Remarkable Woman

     A woman who died last week is credited with saving the lives of 2500 children during the Holocaust.

To Free a Family

     Writer Sid Nathans has written a remarkable book called "To Free A Family,"  It tells the story of Mary Walker, a slave from the Raleigh area who possessed the talents of a designer and seamstress and worked for Mary Todd Lincoln.
     Mary Walker was quite successful and ended up purchasing the Village Smithy House in Cambridge, which was memorialized in the poem by Wordsworth.  She was taken in by a minister and his wife and received a lot of support from the Cambridge community.
     Unfortunately, she was separated from her children, who remained in the Raleigh area.  This story was widely known in Massachusetts.  During the Civil War, a Union soldier located her son, and told him that his mother wanted him and the other children to join her in Massachusetts.  As a consequence, Mary Walker was re-united with her family.
     Author Sid Nathans came to the Durham County Library to give a lecture and slide show about his book.  I had a chance to talk with him and to meet some of the descendants of Mary Walker.

For more information about the book, click on this link:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Helpful Tips for a Better Memory

     The latest issue of AARP has an article called "Is My Memory Normal?"  The author, Lisa Davis, says she wasn't sure if she was just distracted, "losing her marbles, or both."  So she checked into the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness near Baltimore.  Even though she's still in her 50's, Lisa was concerned over forgetting about a dinner party that a friend had thrown for her.  She wondered if early Alzheimer's was setting in.

     Nearly 5.4 million people suffer from Alzheimer's, and the number is likely to triple by 2050.  The clinic that Lisa went to is run by Majid Fotuhi, a neurologist.  His patients get a "brain fitness" program to "prevent problems or to fix them."

     In recent years, studies have shown that being overweight doubles the risk for Alzheimer's.  Also, a wide range of illnesses, from depression to sleeplessness, can have an impact on brain health.

     Lisa's evaluation began with a memory test.  She was asked to name as many words as she could beginning with the letter "b" in 60 seconds, then they moved on to other letters.  Next, she took a stress test on a stationary bike, to see how her cardiovascular system was feeding her brain.

     According to Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois, exercise is one of the best gifts you can give your brain, which is actually a muscle!

     Here are some tips for a better memory:

  • Learn something -- take a class, learn a new skill
  • Sleep -- get at least 6 hours of sleep a night
  • Eat right -- plenty of fish, nuts, olive oil.  A 2009 Columbia University study showed that this wards off Alzheimer's disease.
  • Challenge yourself -- memorize three names a day suggests Majid Fotuhi, M.D.
  • Walk with a friend and have a mentally stimulating conversation
  • Meditate -- here is a quick method:  inhale for 7, exhale for 7, repeat 7 times.
     One other thing helps:  be happy!  Do something nice for yourself everyday.  Here's to good brain health!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rains Came (c)

And washed things clean,
Cool and healing,
To soothe and inspire me.

Rainy day from my window.

The Use of Reiki in Medical Settings

     I read an article about how in some hospitals, a reiki practitioner is present during a patient's surgery.  More and more hospitals are using reiki, and here is a link from "Healing Medicine" about a hospital facility in Massachusetts that uses reiki.

Finding Beauty (c)

         "You can only 
find as much beauty 
as you carry."  
    Sometimes we fail
 to notice the beauty around us 
as we seek to find it 
Me embracing the world on Tangier Island, Virginia, one year ago.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Gratitude for Today

       "An attitude of gratitude...."  How often I hear that phrase.  At times when things are not going our way, it's more important than ever to be grateful for blessings.  A friend of mine in Brookline, Massachusetts, told me this after the April 15th bombings at the Boston Marathon. "Never let a day go by," she said, "when you don't think about your blessings."  Another friend in Brookline, over a year ago, told me that "our fears don't come true."  That is a powerful message.
    Like a lot of baby-boomers, I suppose, I worry about the future...who is going to take care of me in my old age, how will I adjust to changes in my body, yada, yada, yada. 
     Such thinking robs me of the present.  Happy people live in the present and just for today I will  pay attention to the beauty in my life today, and to the people that I love.
     A few days ago, I was introduced to someone in New Jersey and now we are "gratitude buddies."
     Every morning, we list five things we are grateful for and this is a wonderful day to start the day.  In fact, finding her gratitude message on my phone when I got in from the pool today was a great thing to hear.  She spoke of how she gave a neighbor a ride, how she is awaiting the birth of a new grandchild, and how she asserted herself with someone who had been taking advantage.

     Today, I'm grateful for the following things:

That I gave a difficult person a blessing in my mind. 
That I didn't criticize anything or anyone. 
That I let go of my fears.
That I wished a friend well on her visit to a distant medical center for back treatment. 
That I'll be leading an arthritis exercise class this afternoon. 
That I practiced a compassion meditation this morning. 
That I encouraged someone .  

   Writer John Tierney believes that cultivating an ''attitude of gratitude'' has been linked to "better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, and makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked."  Also, the practice of being grateful leads to higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others. 
     Feeling grateful can change your life! 

No One (c)

No one

can love you

better than you do.

No one

can heal you

better than God can.

No one.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


One teacher,
One book,
One girl,
Can change the world!
They meant
to silence me,
but they could not.
I want education,
for all people,
including the Taliban. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Getting My First Paypal Account

     I decided to sell a few things on ebay, and in order to do that, I had to have a Paypal account.  This took about an hour, since I must have had an account some years back and I had to get a new password.  After going around in circles for a while, I actually decided to call Paypal.  What??? Paypal has a phone number?  I hesitantly called the number, and went through the automatic prompts before an agent came on the line.
     Summer picked up on the second ring and was very helpful and patient.  In fact, I would rate Paypal's customer service highly.  Much higher than Sprint, for example.
     Now that I have a Paypal account, I can utilize ebay.  I'm trying to sell some things I no longer use, which might be someone else's treasures.  My first item is a beautiful tea set.  Here is a link:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Using eBay to Make Money"

     The program, "Marketplace," which is heard on National Public Radio, recently had a segment on eBay featuring a woman who claims to be "The Queen of Auctions."
        Truth be told, Lynn Dralle IS the queen of auctions.  For example, she told how she bought a mug for less than a dollar and made hundreds by selling it on eBay.
     Here is her blog: 

"The Decline of North Carolina"

The New York Times recently had an article about the sorry state of the North Carolina legislature.  We now have less money for education...what next???

Friday, July 5, 2013

Best Stocks for 2013 (so far)

This article ran in Money recently...Check it out for an overview of what some good stock options are.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Iran Hostages

      Some of the former American hostages talk about their lives since their ordeal.   This article appeared in the National Journal and was authored by Jill Lawrence.

     Leland Holland is the American pictured in the photograph.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

When To Have Joint Replacement Surgery

     Here is a YouTube clip from an orthopedic surgeon showing when to have joint replacement surgery.  The clip is sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Arthritis Foundation.