Welcome back and thanks for joining our historical journey!
#nsaba #xylaturner #blackhistorymonth #everymonth
(Note: This story builds upon the day before. You must start at Day 1 & progress from there)
Second Stop: Frederick Douglass!
I had no idea why I was so irritated by the scene of the sit-ins back in the 60’s. Maybe it was the injustice of it all, maybe it was because Stokely Carmichael actually did something about the injustice he saw while I do nothing. Maybe it was the old man’s words. I was in denial about the severity of what our forefathers went through to make sure I could attend a college, go to the same schools as my peers or even work at the same jobs as the most elite in a Fortune 500 company.
All of these things were privileges and not rights. People had fought and sacrificed for me to have them and what have I done. Been reduced to celebrating such history once a month.
I didn’t want to do back. I felt insufficient, ill-equipped and more importantly as a black man – embarrassed. Injustice did not stop because freedom surely had not completely rung. With all of my accomplishments, I still was pulled over for riding while black. Purses were clutched when I walked past and assumptions are made when I enter a room with a beard and a fresh cut. And please don’t have me in a suit, I must have girls on a corner. Watch out, pimp daddy coming through.
It was actually quite sad, but where else would I experience such a journey? I did not want to go back, but I needed to. For my own growth.
As I burst through the doors of the bookstore, I was ten minutes late. Damn, they had already left me. I searched down the aisles, then I went to the backroom, where I smelled the book thief’s perfume. She had been here.
There was some rumbling to the far left of the narrow hallway, so I moved towards that are and saw the thief and old man walking down the hall.
“Hey,” I called. Sounding a little more excited than I planned to be. “Wait up.”
The thief was the first to turn around and if I wasn’t mistaken, she looked excited to see me. There was a glimmer of relief in her eyes. The same in the old man’s eyes but more in a fatherly sort of way. The thief, well that was a womanly/manly sort.
“Glad you could make it, young man,” The older man said.
“Yeah, sorry I’m late,” I replied.
“We waited a bit.” The woman said with a raised eyebrow. “First you try to steal my book, then you keep us waiting.”
Oh, she has a smart mouth. I know what to do with smart mouths because I had five sisters.
“Watch it, sweetheart. I let you have the book but if you keep pushing, I’ll give you something to talk about,” I raised my eyebrow back at her.
Her neck reeled back, the she looked at the older man liked she needed clarification of what I just said. The man must have had kids of his own because he said, “That’s our cue,” and then everything blacked out.
We were transported to a barn, where we saw a scruffy little black boy and an older white woman filing through broken pieces of brownish paper. The boy held a metal pen point as he shakily scribed on the dirty paper.
“Type the letter ‘e,’” she sounded it out for him.
He drew on the battered paper, then looked at her for approval.
“Good, Fredrick.” She gave him a slight smile, “Now…”
“What in Sam’s hell did I tell you about this, Sophia?” A tall man stormed into the barn and sending all of the chickens, pigs and hens to disperse while causing a ruckus. “There is a goddamn federal ban on teaching niggers. You think you’re exempt from that. Douglass ain’t exempt. Neither are you.”
He snatched the tablet out of the boy’s hand, threw the writing utensil and grabbed his wife by the arm, pulling her up to stand. “They’re not allowed, Sophia. What’ll readin’ and writin’ do for him? Huh? Get us in the hen house, that’s what.”
The man jerked the woman out of the barn as we watched the boy pick up the tattered pages and the writing utensil and sketch an ‘e’. The look on his face was one of courage, determination and, more importantly, resilience. There would be no stopping him.
“You know who this is?” The old man asked.
“I’m assuming Frederick Douglass,” the book thief said as she wiped a tear from her eye.
Yesterday, she was really crying but today it was only a few tears.
“Yup. That’s a young Frederick. Probably around twelve or so. There’s no record when he was born as those were hard to keep for some that were owned. He was born a slave and his mom died when he was about ten.”
“So, why bring us to this scene?” I asked. “Frederick Douglass was a great man that accomplished tremendous feats.”
“OH, you’re catching on.” The old man smiled. “This.” He pointed to the boy writing the letter ‘e’ over and over again. “Was the turning point where he learned how to read and write. His ability to have those skills prompted him to understand what slavery was about which propelled him seek further knowledge, teach others how to read and write and then start his career as a writer, orator, anti-slavery advocate of that century.” He smiled.
“So, you showed us the turning point in his life.” The woman said as she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her coat.
It was wool, so it had to irritate her beautiful light café coloring. Her lips were stained a mauve color and her eyes contained a shadow of a similar color. Yesterday she did not have on any makeup or perfume. I looked at her thigh length pea coat, which was open and it displayed her loose cobalt colored blouse, tight boot-cut jeans and ankle boots. The woman looked good. There was no doubt about that and if she weren’t such a damn book thief with a smart mouth, I would have asked her out by now.
“Yes and no. I brought you to the beginning or maybe his first turning point. Who knows? But Frederick Douglass moved from Sophia’s to another slave breakers house and after two attempts, he finally escaped. After he had married, he started to speak in local churches and was a sought-after speaker. He later penned his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845. Frederick wrote several more books and after he had stayed in Ireland for a couple of years, he was able to buy his freedom and return to the U.S.”
“So, basically, he was a fugitive?” I had not heard this before.
“Yes, for him to move from state to state, he had to show identification that he was a free man. When he escaped initially, his first soon-to-be wife helped him with some money and a free seaman’s identification papers so he could escape to New York.”
“Wow!” The woman gasped. “This is just, wow.”
I nodded my head in agreement and after thinking some more, I noted. “So, his weapon was his ability to read and write and they knew if slaves could comprehend what was being put upon them, they’d never stand for it. If their minds were open and they could see that life was not supposed to be this way, because someone said it had to be, they wouldn’t tolerate it. They would fight back and unite. This was about control, power, money and keeping a group of people down.”
The woman’s head turned around and those brown eyes hit mine. She was so expressive. “Right,” she slowly nodded.
“Reading and writing were his weapon and so the question is for you two. What’s your weapon against injustice? This is one aspect, but injustice is all around us. From handicap accessibility to veteran benefits to mother’s to be, educational options, mental health, and retirement facilities. The haves and the have-nots. What is your weapon?”
Here he goes again. Challenging us.
I sighed and in a blink of an eye, we were back in the bookstore.
“This is such a cool trick,” the woman said.
“Who says it’s a trick?” The old man chimed in. “It could all be a dream.”
That was a little scary but okay.
“So, same time tomorrow? Do you guys want to continue the journey?”
“Yes, I’m in,” I was the one who answered quickly this time.
“Yup, I’m in as well.”
“Great!” He exclaimed. “Now, let’s do some housekeeping.”
He turned around and pulled something from behind his back, “This is for you.”
The old man handed me the book that the thief stole from me yesterday. I smirked and said thanks.
“I’m David, by the way, and you are?”
“I’m Jared,” I said.
He nodded and said, “Perfect. Now we know who the other is and we can call each other by our names and not thieves.”
Toni huffed while I stared at her side profile. Yup, she was pretty, but she was not feeling me.
“Well, thanks, David. I appreciate the journey,” I reached out to shake his hand.
“Yes, thanks, David, this is priceless. I plan to read more about Frederick Douglass this evening.”
“That, my dear, sounds like a plan.”
Thank you for experiencing Frederick Douglass with us! We hope you stay tuned as we continue to explore various figures during this month and that you’ll take this snippet and learn more about Mr. Douglass and his various writings.
- Will Jared ask Toni out?
- Experience the next historical figure, Jackie Robinson, an athlete
- Find out who Day 4 will feature
- Follow N. Saba on Facebook!