Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn
This collection of Douglass’s speeches in Brooklyn displays the power of the former slave’s oratory before, during, and after the Civil War. Editor Hamm, a professor of media studies, places a selection of carefully reconstructed speeches in this slim volume, and gives useful context on how they were locally received. A concise introduction provides detail about 19th-century Brooklyn and its conflicted legacy of racial prejudice and abolitionism. When Douglass’s own words are reproduced, his talent as a writer and the sheer monstrousness of slavery are both driven home. In one speech, he points out that black soldiers “are willing to fight in this war, provided they have the shield of this government extended over them,” laying bare a truth that continued to be relevant for the American armed services for long afterward. His Brooklyn lectures show him at his peak as an advocate of racial equality in a hostile climate, represented here by editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
It is as moving to read his 1866 speech today as it must have been to be in a crowd and hear him say, “I appear here no longer as a whipped, scarred slave—no longer as the advocate merely of an enslaved race, but in the high and commanding character of an American citizen.” (Jan.)