Frederick Douglass and Ferguson

Sitting here in the midst of moving, going through boxes, reading posts online, and watching what is happening, I picked up the copy I have of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. For some reason this book seems to have just landed in random spots along the move. It was sitting next to my knitting last night and I don’t remember putting it there.
This is one of the books I have that I will occasionally and randomly flip through. Last night I started reading the appendix and then worked backwards. Sometimes I do that when the first parts aren’t keeping my attention.
I wonder what Frederick would be thinking and saying and doing about Ferguson. It is one of the many situations in life where everyone is right, everyone is wrong, it brings out true colors, and shows how many fine lines we walk in life. I spent over an hour last night reading posts from all different sides: people who are blatantly racist, people who believe in the right to bear arms and protect themselves, people who know that this is racism and class warfare and modern day slavery all rolled into one. You have the first responders asking people to pray for them that they will make it through their shift alive and people asking everyone to pray for peace.
I don’t live in Ferguson, I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened. All I know is out of the past another man has left his legacy one word at a time.
I’ve asked clients of mine if they have heard of or read Frederick Douglass’ work. The answer is always ‘no’ and even though I have tried to read it with them, they immediately shut down. I know his work will never be incorporated into Common Core. What he describes happening in the 1830’s still happens today but under different ways and means.
Douglass describes how he tried teaching many of his fellow slaves to read but was shut down by the slave owners. The slave owners wanted the slaves, on Sundays, to pursue fighting. Sound familiar?
Douglass describes how the slaves were given a week “off” between Christmas and New Year’s. Yet the masters took advantage of this and gambled on how much the slaves could drink. Sound familiar?
Douglass describes Mr. Covey, whom he worked under for a year. Mr. Covey was a “pious” and “nice” man and Frederick’s owner could not believe what Frederick said about Mr. Covey. Reading this section was a kind of deja vu for me. Mr. Covey sounds exactly like the white drug dealer I lived next to for ten years. People describe him the same way and Mr. Covey acted just like him: coming and going at his own leisure, parading around as a good Christian but as soon as church was over back to beating and whipping his slaves for the smallest thing. Except now in 21st century America, white drug dealers go to church and then sell drugs and cry to the judge they go to church and are “misguided.” This is a modern day slavery.
The sun has risen here, a national holiday created on the pretext of keeping a country together. Yet the country is always ripped at the seams. The more one digs, the more one observes, the clearer it becomes.


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