Last week, actor Danny Glover took center stage as the keynote speaker at Quinnipiac University’s Black History Month event to “explore the similarities of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its early abolitionist roots –– particularly Frederick Douglass –– to build connections, increase dialogue and end racism.”
While it would be fascinating to hear Glover’s plan to “end racism,” it’s even more striking—or perhaps, disappointing—to see Frederick Douglass’ legacy listed among the roots of the Black Lives Matter movement. An honest review of his life would find that he modeled values almost antithetical to what they stand for. But Glover isn’t the first to distort Douglass’ legacy to fit contemporary political agendas.
Last year, the Washington Post published an article dispelling “five myths about Frederick Douglass.” It turns out that many of the “myths” were simply facts about Douglass’ life that contradict the progressive agenda. Here are just the first two: Douglass was a pious Christian. Myth. Douglass was an American patriot. Myth.
Unfortunately, partisans often project their contemporary political views into the past—rather than allowing the past to inform the present. History, then, becomes not an explanation of how things came to be—but rather—a depository where ideologues come and go, mining for information that confirms their already long-held beliefs. Any discordant facts are conveniently discarded as “myths.”
Here’s the truth about Frederick Douglass: he was an unapologetic Christian minister and a patriotic American statesman—two distinctions that the left just can’t accept.
Black Lives Matter has a “different” relationship with the church in that they only intend to “focus on the parts of scripture where Jesus challenges the Roman power structure rather than the parts about loving one's enemies.”
An active participant in church ministry, Douglass required his children to read an entire chapter of the Bible before dinner each night. Passing the book around the table, each child was expected to read a verse until the chapter was complete. Speaking on his own conversion to Christianity, Douglass wrote:
“I finally found my burden lightened and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever.”
In fact, decades after being subjugated to the evils of the slave system, Douglass accepted his former master’s invitation to sit at his bedside as he took his last breaths. Somehow, even after enduring years in chains as another “christian” man’s property, Douglass demonstrated the powerful Christian ethic of loving one’s enemy.
Douglass’ faith can hardly be traced as the early “roots” of contemporary social justice movements. As one activist proudly stated, the Black Lives Matter has a “different” relationship with the church in that they only intend to “focus on the parts of scripture where Jesus challenges the Roman power structure rather than the parts about loving one's enemies.”
It doesn’t take a degree in theology to see the stark contrast between Douglass’ faith and the cherry-picked theology that today’s activists espouse.
Another narrative looming over Douglass’ bicentennial is that he was disdainful of America. It’s no coincidence that out of all of his speeches, Douglass’ famous “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” is a favorite among contemporary activists. In the 1852 speech, Douglass declares:
“Your celebration is a sham, your boasted liberty an unholy license…There’s not a nation on the Earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.”
Here, they say, is proof that Douglass was no patriot. However, when this speech is reconciled alongside his other work—notably after the abolition of slavery—his views about the United States change. But for those who need history to support their agenda, they tell half the story in place of the whole.
It’s unclear why someone who still felt such hate for the United States would accept the call to serve his country as United States Marshal of the District of Columbia. In fact, while serving in this capacity, Douglass honored soldiers who fought for the union:
“If now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage…and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty and civilization, we are indebted to the…noble army”
Frederick Douglass’ life exemplifies precisely what’s missing in today’s politics. He lived his life beholden only to his heartfelt beliefs—not a partisan political agenda. He loved God, his family, and his country. What about that is so hard for the left to accept?