Learning Lincoln On-line

FROM-- SET SEVEN, CIVIL WAR STUDIES

Topic Forty-three:  Black Americans during the Civil War Picture Puzzle

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#8   A COMPARISON OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS AND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.-- ARTICLE

(From Kathi's Blog Thursday, March 1, 2012)

Are there similarities between Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

       Both Douglass and King were transformed by education and reading.  They marveled at the beauty of the spoken and written word.  When Martin Luther King was a boy, he was a bit of a troublemaker.  His father gave him a copy of Frederick Douglass' autobiography and it changed his life.  Both of them have similar oratory styles.  They both had the amazing ability to move their audience to action
       Neither Frederick Douglass nor Martin Luther King were extremists.  Both of them argued that African-Americans have a natural right to equality.  Douglass and King claimed that black people had been robbed of their equality by white Americans who refused to acknowledge their own hypocrisy by not affording people of color the liberties that were guaranteed them in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  In using America's stated ideals as the basis for their appeals for equality, Douglass and King sought to influence reasonable Americans, not hard core racists.  Both of them were recruited into their leadership roles as spokesmen for racial equality.  One hundred years after Douglass' fight against slavery, segregation was the prevailing system. Segregation was not nearly as cruel as slavery, but still evil and of great hardship to racial equality.

       Both Douglass and King became spokesman for their causes.  Douglass because of his ability to describe the inhumanity of slavery and King as a result of his involvement with the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott during the 1950's

       Race relations between blacks and whites have always been a problematic and fiery issue throughout United States history.  Frederick Douglass was a self-taught black man who wrote about his experiences as a slave.  In his book, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself," he makes many insights into the injustices and cruelty of slavery. 

       In 1863, Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation and blacks were forever freed from slavery.  However, this did not put and end to racial tension or to the black man's hope for equality in the twentieth century.  Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter from jail justifying his "nonviolent" crusade to end segregation forever.  King's letter is thorough and his ideas and arguments are expressed efficiently with well-grounded rationale. 

       Douglass' writings are more difficult to understand because there is more substance under the surface.  Although they are separated by a century, Douglass and King parallel each other significantly.  King's rhetoric and system of analysis are a helpful lens through which to scrutinize and extract the important realizations found in Douglass' writings.
       In the speech, "I Have a Dream" King creates visual images of the equality clause from the Declaration of Independence.  In the speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Douglass contends that the Fourth of July is a reminder of centuries of gross injustices perpetrated by a nation that prides itself on its democratic ideals.  King abhorred the lack of equal opportunity that resulted in black america's lack of access to basic economic security.  King stated, "All segregation laws are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality."  Douglass declared, "I believe in agitation."  Douglass complained about the failure of white Americans to live up to American ideals of liberty

 

Frederick Douglass

 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

       Both Douglass and King changed their names.  Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Bailey.  Changed his name to Frederick Douglass when he was free from slavery.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Michael Luther King, Jr. and changed his name later in his teens.  Both of them began lecturing when they were in their 20's.  Douglass and King both wrote books and articles in addition to their exceptional speaking ability.  Frederick Douglass had President Lincoln to deal with regarding the plight of the slaves.  Martin Luther King, Jr. had President L. B. Johnson to contend with in the battle against segregation.  Both men had four living children.  It was obvious that Providence influenced both of their lives.
       Reading Douglass' and King's speeches are able to move someone to action.  It would be amazing to hear Frederick Douglass' eloquent speeches. I can only imagine that James Earle Jones in the video below does Douglass justice.   Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking ability was effective enough to move thousands to action, regardless of color. 

 

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