Tribute to Frederick Douglass
February 26, 1895 — Memorial service, Central Church, Rochester NY
Read by Susan B. Anthony
Taking up the morning Tribune, the first words that caught my eye thrilled my very soul. “Frederick Douglass is dead!” What vivid memories thick and fast flashed through my mind and held me spellbound in contemplation of the long years since first we met.
Trained in the severe school of slavery, I saw him first before a Boston audience, fresh from the land of bondage. He stood there like an African prince, conscious of his dignity and power, grand in his physical proportions, majestic in his wrath, as with keen wit, satire and indignation he portrayed the bitterness of slavery, the humiliation of subjection to those who in all human virtues and capacities were inferior to himself. His denunciation of our national crime, of the wild and guilty fantasy that men could hold property in man, poured like a torrent that fairly made his hearers tremble.
Thus I first saw him, and wondered as I listened that any mortal man should have ever tried to subjugate a being with such marvelous powers, such self-respect, such intense love of liberty.
Around him sat the great anti-slavery orators of the day, watching his effect on that immense audience, completely magnetized with his eloquence, laughing and crying by turns with his rapid flights from pathos to humor. All other speakers seemed tame after Douglass. Sitting near, I heard Phillips say to Lydia Maria Child: “Verily, this boy, who has only just graduated from the ‘southern institution’ (as slavery was called), throws us all in the shade.” “Ah,” she replied, “the iron has entered his soul and he knows the wrongs of slavery subjectively; the rest of you speak only from an objective point of view.”
He used to preach a sermon in imitation of the Methodist clergy, from the text, “Servants, Obey your Masters,” which the people were never tired of hearing. Often after he had spoken an hour shouts would go up from all parts of the house, “Now, Douglass, give us the sermon.” Some of our literary critics pronounced that the best piece of satire in the English language.
The last time I visited his home in Anacostia, I asked him if he ever had the sermon printed. He said “No.” “Could you reproduce it?” said I. He said, “No; I could not bring back the old feeling if I tried, and I would not if I could. The blessings of liberty I have so long enjoyed, and the many tender friendships I have with the Saxon race on both sides of the ocean, have taught me such sweet lessons of forgiveness that the painful memories of my early days are almost obliterated, and I would not recall them.”
As an orator, writer and editor, Douglass holds an honored place among the gifted men of his day. As a man of business and a public officer he has been preeminently successful; honest and upright in all his dealings, he bears an enviable reputation.
As a husband, father, neighbor and friend, in all social relations, he has been faithful and steadfast to the end. He was the only man I ever knew who understood the degradation of disfranchisement for women. Through all the long years of our struggle he has been a familiar figure on our platform, with always an inspiring word to say. In the very first convention he helped me to carry the resolution I had penned, demanding woman suffrage.
Frederick Douglass is not dead! His grand character will long be an object lesson in our national history; his lofty sentiments of liberty, justice and equality, echoed on every platform over our broad land, must influence and inspire many coming generations!
Source: In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass, ed. Helen Douglass (Philadelphia: John C. Yorston & Co), 1895, pp. 44-45.