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Public Statements

Authorizing Use of Emancipation Hall for Unveiling of Statue of Fredrick Douglas

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of S. Con. Res. 16, which authorizes the use of Emancipation Hall for the unveiling of a statute of Frederick Douglass. It is fitting and proper that Emancipation Hall is the venue for the dedication of a memorial to one of this nation's greatest abolitionists and orators, and one of the closest friends and advisors of the Great Emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln.

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, on February 18, 1818, and lived the first 20 years of his life as a slave before escaping to freedom in 1838 through the Underground Railroad. With the assistance of abolitionists, he resettled in New Bedford, Massachusetts and changed his name to avoid recapture by fugitive slave bounty hunters.

Frederick Douglass had no formal education but he recognized the power of education and taught himself to read and write. He would go on to become the publisher of ``The North Star,'' a leading abolitionist newspaper, whose motto was ``Right is of no Sex--Truth is of no Color--God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.''

Frederick Douglass also authored one of the seminal works in American history, the influential autobiography ``Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,'' which explained with unsurpassed eloquence how slavery corrupts the human spirit and robs both master and slave of their freedom.

Frederick Douglass devoted his life to the struggle for freedom, human dignity, and the full measure of civil and human rights for all men and women, famously observing that ``where there is no struggle, there is no progress; power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and never will.''

Frederick Douglass was also one of America's greatest orators. He was the only African American to attend the first women's rights convention in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, where he spoke powerfully and forcefully in favor of women's suffrage. In his moving address, he said that he could not accept the right to vote as a black man if women could not also claim that right and suggested that the world would be a better place if women were involved in the political sphere:

In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered the address for which he is perhaps best known. The theme of that address to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society was ``What to the slave is the 4th of July?'' In that speech, he described in stark and vivid detail the gap between America's principles and practices, its aspirations and the actual condition of people's lives, especially those persons of African descent. In answering the question, ``What to the slave is your 4th of July,'' he said:

[A] day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

But Frederick Douglass was not bitter at America, he was determined to make her better. And he did through his writings, lectures, speeches, and civic activism. Most of all, the bond of friendship he forged with President Lincoln helped the nation summon the will to accept civil war as the price to be paid to abolish American slavery and emancipate from bondage millions of slaves and their descendants.

On April 14, 1876, the eleventh anniversary of the Lincoln's assassination, Frederick Douglass was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln in the City of Washington, in which the Great Abolitionist spoke for all former slaves in paying tribute to the Great Emancipator:

Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; we saw him ..... in the light of the stern logic of great events, and in view of that divinity which shapes our ends, ..... we came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. [He] was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States.

After the Civil War, Frederick served as U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia and later as the first African American Recorder of Deeds. In 1888 at the Republican National Convention, he became the first African-American to receive a vote for nomination as president of the United States by one of the major parties. From 1889 to 1891, Frederick Douglass served his country as Minister-Resident and Consul-General to Haiti. He died in Washington, D.C. on February 20, 1895, at the age of 77.

Mr. Speaker, the life of Frederick Douglass affirms what is great about our country. Here was a man who overcame the conditions of his birth and the disadvantages of his race to become one of the towering figures of his age. His life proves that Margaret Mead was right when she said:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

With the unveiling of the statute in memory of Frederick Douglass, fittingly located in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol, the story of this great man who led such a consequential life will be made known to all who visit for generations to come.


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