Although completely ignored by the major news networks, President Donald Trump signed into law on Thursday legislation to establish the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission, which will make plans to honor the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), a slave who escaped to freedom and became a leading orator, abolitionist, writer, publisher, and statesman.
Douglass was a Republican who often criticized the slavery-supporting Democratic Party. “It is not true that the Republican Party has not endeavored to protect the negro in his right to vote,” said Douglass in an 1888 speech. “The whole moral power of the party has been, from first to last, on the side of justice to the negro; and it has only been baffled, in its efforts to protect the negro in his vote, by the Democratic Party.”
In a statement on Thursday, President Trump said, “Today, I am pleased to sign into law, H.R. 2989, the ‘Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act,’ which will create the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission, which will be responsible for planning, developing, and carrying out activities to honor Frederick Douglass on the 200th anniversary of his birth.”
“Our Nation rightly honors the life of Mr. Douglass, a former slave who became an outstanding orator and a leader of the abolitionist movement,” said President Trump. “I also welcome the participation of the members of the Congress in the valuable work the Commission will perform.”
“… All Americans have much to learn from the life and writings of Mr. Douglass,” said President Trump, “and I look forward to working with the Commission to celebrate the achievements of this great man.”
The legislation directs the Bicentennial Commission to “(1) plan, develop, and carry out programs and activities to honor Frederick Douglass for the bicentennial anniversary of his birth; and (2) recommend the federal government entities appropriate to carry out such programs and activities. Not later than August 1, 2018, the commission must recommend appropriate activities to Congress. A final report detailing commission activities and expenditures must be submitted not later than June 1, 2019.”
Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. He lived on a plantation and, when he was around 12 years old, a slaveholder’s wife, Sophia Auld, taught Douglass the alphabet and how to read. From that point he read as much as he could, especially from newspapers.
Douglass escaped to freedom in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1838 using the identification papers of a freed seaman, according to Biography.com. He married Anna Murray and they had five children.
Frederick Douglass gave many speeches against slavery. He also traveled to England and Ireland. He founded the abolitionist newspapers The North Star, the Frederick Douglass Weekly, and the New National Era.
Douglass also advised President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers and President Andrew Johnson on black suffrage, reports Biography.com.
Douglass converted to Christianity and was often critical of Christians who did not speak out against slavery. Douglass wrote several books, including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
In Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, the author wrote of his Christian faith, “I was not more than 13 years old, when in my loneliness and destitution I longed for someone to whom I could go, as to a father and protector. The preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson, was the means of causing me to feel that in God I had such a friend.
“He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God: that they were by nature rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ. I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what was required of me, but one thing I did know well: I was wretched and had no means of making myself otherwise.
“I consulted a good old colored man named Charles Lawson, and in tones of holy affection he told me to pray, and to ‘cast all my care upon God.’ This I sought to do; and though for weeks I was a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved.
“I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light, and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially, did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.”