African American History Collections Document of the Month Events

October 2017 Document of the Month | Douglass on Lincoln


By John Coski

On the 11th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre, African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered the oration at the unveiling of a monument in Washington, D.C., depicting Lincoln as the paternalistic “Great Emancipator.” Although praising Lincoln for the determination and political skills that allowed him to implement emancipation, Douglass bluntly characterized him as “pre-eminently the white man’s President” who “shared the prejudices of his countrymen toward the colored race.”

Sixty-four years later, “when the world [was] again in the throes of a great crisis,” the Frederick Douglass Historical and Cultural League issued a new pamphlet version of the speech. The 1940 foreword made clear that the hero of the occasion was as much Douglass the orator as Lincoln the subject of the oration:

“This speech is of unique worth as the measured judgment of the greatest leader of the Negro people in our country – of one who stands beside Lincoln as an Emancipator. The teachings of this great Negro Abolitionist, Liberator, and Statesman are a rich heritage from that past heroic period, invaluable for our day and generation and for all time.”

How we define and view our heroes is the subject of a Homeschool Day program, “History’s Heroes” on Thursday, October 26