Proud Lion of Baltimore - the Life and Legacy of Frederick Douglass

Article excerpt

On November 13, 2002, at Adrian College, Michigan, Frederick Douglass IV and his wife, B.J., announced that they were embarking on a mission to empower young people. "We're celebrating my great-great- grandfather's escape from slavery--on September 3, 1838--by taking what we think is a vital message to America's young people," said Douglass. "We tell them that if Frederick Douglass could come into this world as a totally impoverished slave and transform himself into an orator, author, member of the middle class, and confidant of presidents, then their potential--in an era of free access to public education--is unlimited. But they must begin charting their successful futures today.

"We hope to inspire and empower 165,000 young people to develop their skills in reading, writing, arithmetic, and public speaking. We hope to admonish young people to preserve their brains through abstaining from drugs, drinking, and wallowing in self-pity; advise them to use Wait Power through deferring their involvement in premarital sex and other distracting activities; and encourage young people to begin charting their successful futures today, by planning to attend college or a trade school and/or to become entrepreneurs."

"We want to uplift and empower a thousand young people for each of the years that have passed since Frederick Douglass empowered himself by fleeing from slavery," added B.J. "We believe that each young person whose life we touch will go out and influence other youths to transform their lives for the better. Ultimately, we hope there will be a cumulative effect, a compounding social interest on this investment in youth, that will have tremendous benefits for all Americans."

"We have chosen to come to Adrian College to announce the 'Frederick Douglass 165 Years of Freedom Tour' [a variety of presentations and performances featuring Douglass IV and his wife] because we believe in the mission of the Sojourner Truth Technical Training Center," said Douglass IV. "We think that it is imperative to document and preserve the awesome history of Underground Railroad activities in Michigan through the use of computers, digital video, still cameras, and other futuristic technology. My great-great-grandfather was also active in the Underground Railroad in Michigan and spoke at various locations in this region."

The culmination of the Years of Freedom Tour will take place on September 3, 2003, during the national Frederick Douglass Freedom Day observance. "The central idea of the celebration," said Douglass, "involves encouraging young people to strengthen their reading, writing, and public speaking skills through doing live presentations in front of audiences. Part of the celebration involves encouraging people throughout America to read The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself, which is an inspiring book."

Douglass IV was born in Pennsylvania and came to Baltimore in 1965 to enroll at Morgan State University (then Morgan College). His ancestor's statue graces the campus. After a varied career in the private and public sector, Douglass IV became Morgan's director of public relations. Starting in 1997, he and B.J. began portraying Frederick and Anna Douglass in powerful dramatic presentations. They also conduct workshops in conjunction with their performances. These sessions are structured, they explain, "to encourage participants from differing racial, gender, and age groups to engage in dialogues that promote greater understanding of how we must change to become more sensitive and caring Americans. We must come to understand that we are all Americans."

Douglass IV is also a leading proponent of preserving and commemorating the memory of Frederick Douglass in Baltimore. "This was his home," he explains simply. Despite harsh memories and a long exile, Frederick always considered himself a Marylander. He regarded Baltimore as his hometown and thought of his years in Fells Point as formative, the foundation of all that he eventually became. …