The Mind of Frederick Douglass

By Waldo E. Martin Jr. | Go to book overview

Epilogue

Douglass's effectiveness as a race leader, social reformer, and national spokesman, in addition to his importance as a thinker, came primarily from the representative character of his life and mind. As a classic example of American notions of individual success, his life appeared to validate and his thought reflected the individualism so central to American culture, notably the ideology of self-made success. Similarly, his life and thought revealed his deep commitment to basic American principles generally, like freedom, equality, and justice. His embodiment of the intrinsic interrelationship between the Euro-American and Afro-American minds -- in essence, the American mind -- enabled him to move between the Afro-American and EuroAmerican worlds. It likewise rendered him especially well suited to mediate between those worlds and to promote their integration through a recognition of a common ethos and a common humanity.

In addition to illustrating the congruence between the Afro-American mind and the American mind, his thought demonstrated the crucial point of divergence between them. Rejecting the dominant racism infecting Euro-American thought, and, in turn, American thought, Douglass espoused a distinctive brand of universal and egalitarian humanism. Interestingly enough, his humanism had roots in the best of America's ideals as well as Afro-American race consciousness. Largely from this humanism came an eminently moral, meliorist, and activist social vision. In part, the continuing black liberation struggle has grown out of that social vision.

Douglass's middle-class strategy of racial elevation -- illustrative of the mainstream cast of his mind -- betrayed certain telling intellectual and tactical limitations. By promoting basic American ideas about success and respectability and stressing the Afro-American's adherence to them, for instance, he highlighted the Afro-American's essential Americanness and hoped to pave the way for his acceptance by Euro-Americans. Individual black success, he believed, would redound to the glory of the race, thereby making blacks, as a group, more palatable to whites. Moreover, once blacks became economically powerful, the argument continued, whites would have to accept them. To a limited degree, this approach worked. Some individual black success, like Douglass's, apparently proved acceptable to certain whites, consequently enhancing their estimation of black ability. Most, however, saw such black achievement as the exception proving the rule of black inability. More often than not, they refused to countenance the equal and untrammeled participation

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The Mind of Frederick Douglass
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Part One - The Shape of a Life 1
  • 1 - The Formative Years and Beyond 3
  • 2 - Abolitionism: the Travail of a "Great Life's Work" 18
  • 3 - The Politics of a Race Leader 55
  • 4 - Humanism, Race, and Leadership 92
  • Part Two - Social Reform 107
  • 5 - The Ideology of White Supremacy 109
  • 6 - Feminism, Race, and Social Reform 136
  • 7 - The Philosophy and Pursuit of Social Reform 165
  • Part Three - National Identity, Culture, and Science 195
  • 8 - A Composite American Nationality 197
  • 9 - Ethnology and Equality 225
  • Part Four - The Autobiographical Douglass 251
  • 10 - Self-Made Man, Self-Conscious Hero 253
  • Epilogue 281
  • Notes 285
  • Bibliography 309
  • Index 317
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