February 14, 2020
Happy Black History Month! Today is the day that Frederick Douglass chose as his birthday, since he didn’t know his date of birth. In honor of this bona-fide American hero, today’s book rec is Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn, edited by Theodore Hamm. It’s a collection of speeches Douglass gave at various churches and institutions in Brooklyn, along with some contemporaneous newspaper articles covering and reacting to the speeches. It’s a really cool approach to the biographical subject and local history, and it’s great to see for ourselves how Douglass was a skilled and masterful orator, rather than just having biographers tell us that he was. He’s surprisingly funny, and his observations are trenchant. The speeches he gave at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1863 and 1866 in particular stand out. He discusses his relationships with John Brown and Abraham Lincoln and advocates for Black men to join Union armies (he personally recruited hundreds, if not thousands, of Black soldiers) and to press for Black equality in all spheres of public and private life. It’s a really interesting read, check it out.