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Forget What You’ve Heard: Frederick Douglass Was a Howard University Man

Discover the long-lasting legacy of Frederick Douglass at Howard University, from raising funds to receiving an honorary doctorate to testifying before Congress. Read about his speech at Howard in 1878.
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This is a guest post by John (from The Lion of Anacostia), cross-posted here.

Forget what you’ve heard, or rather haven’t heard or yet read. Frederick Douglass was a Howard Universityman through and through. Douglass was not just a lion, he was a Bison.

Howard University from Robert N Dennis Collection
Howard University from Robert N Dennis Collection

Douglass raised funds and donated his money to Howard. He received an honorary doctorate from the university. He testified before Congress advocating for the university. While in Washington Douglass got around town from City Hall to the White House to the US Capitol to local meetings on District Voting Rights. Throughout his various commitments to family, lecturing, and political appointments, from 1871 until his death in 1895 Douglass was closely affiliated with the college on the hilltop. His relationship and decades of service to Howard University is without question one of the most important dynamics of his lasting legacy in Washington, D.C.

Below is the article published in the New York Times on February 16th, 1878.

Washington, Feb. 15. – On the occasion, yesterday, of the presentation of a steel engraving of Carpenter’s [ED: Francis Bicknell Carpeter] picture of the “Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation” to the Howard University, Frederick Douglass, among others, made a speech, in which he said: “Among the faults of his people were their self-indulgence, love of ease, and improvidence. They must learn to spend their earnings judiciously. If one can’t get up, he will be helped down. They had a fair chance to get up. He was on his way to Congress and he thought that if the negro could stand Congress, Congress out to stand the negro. The colored men had been forced up by abnormal conditions, but they were coming up gradually by their own exertions.

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President Hayes made a speech, in which he said:

“I quite agree with all that has been said, yet it occurred to me that Mr. Douglass made a modest estimate of his race when he said: “They don’t build up; they don’t build the domes you see;’ but who did build them? Such men as Adams and Sumner made their fame by their speeches under that dome and the speech your colored brother made made us is better than making domes; but that is not my message. I would say the wisdom, the righteousness, and the grandeur of Abraham Lincoln’s act of emancipation no man will deny. That is has conferred infinite blessings on our country, on both races, and on the world, very few question. This estimate of the act and of its results will not by changes by the good conduct or the bad conduct of either race; but it is said that the greatness of the blessing conferred on the colored race depends on their conduct. What they most need is what Burns calls “The glorious privilege of being independent.” What this requires is the willingness to labor, and the prudence and self-denial to save the fruits of labor. My young colored friends, let this, then, be among your good resolutions: “I will work and I will save, to the end I may become independent.”

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