Great lives: the life of Frederick Douglass
BY MARY TURNER
“Frederick Douglass is not dead,” stated professor of history Jeffrey McClurken in his Great Lives lecture that focused on the civil rights leader Thursday evening.
McClurken was quoting a letter women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote to civil rights enthusiast and feminist Susan B. Anthony.
“His grand character will long be an object lesson in our National history,” it continued in Stanton’s letter. “His lofty sentiments of liberty, justice and equality, echoed on every platform over our broad land, must influence and inspire many coming generations.”
Such sentiments made Douglass a strong candidate for McClurken’s Great Lives lecture. From the time he read “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” as an undergraduate student at Mary Washington College, McClurken developed a special interest in Douglass.
“Of course I was nervous,” he said. McClurken has presented several versions of his Douglass lecture in the past, and had spent several weeks preparing for the Great Lives lecture last Thursday.
He said that research for his lecture on Douglass went back at least five years, while his overall interest in the civil rights leader spanned over a decade.
The lecture given Thursday night covered the many stages of Douglass’ life.
Douglass’ life as a slave, his escape, his freedom, his battles, and his life of “assumed, if not complete” victory were all explored.
“Frederick Douglass is one of those larger than life figures of the 19th century,” McClurken said.
A major theme of the lecture was that, by using every possible resource available to him, Douglass was able to achieve more influence than any other African American of his time. His literacy, location, and oratory skills allowed him to affect the outcome of all slaves in America.
McClurken also spoke about the relationship between Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
While having only met a handful of times, Douglass seemed to have made a profound impression on Lincoln and some of his future policies.
“He embodied the American dream,” McClurken said, “and I think that Lincoln was probably very impressed with Douglass.”
President Lincoln would not have been alone in his admiration for Douglass. McClurken also spoke about the relationship between Douglass and women’s rights activists Anthony and Stanton.
Even after arguments made by Douglass at the 1869 American Equal Rights Association convention caused several of the women leaders to walk out, Stanton still had praise for Douglass in later years.
After McClurken spoke, audience members were give the opportunity to ask more questions. Several people asked hypothetical questions, while others asked for more specific details about particular stages in Douglass life.
The presentation, which included many facts that were not mentioned in his first autobiography, left many in the audience with a renewed interest in Douglass.
Near the stage exit in the auditorium there was even a small line of people waiting to talk more extensively with McClurken after the speech.