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Angry Black Activist or God-Fearing Patriot? The Truth About Frederick Douglass

02-21-2018

On this 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, many are revisiting the life of this statesman, fiery abolitionist and minister.

Jeremy Hunt, a strategist for the Douglass Leadership Institute, says Douglass "loved God, he loved his family and he loved his country."

Hunt would be at odds with famed historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., who in a recent Washington Post article decried famous stories about Douglass's faith and dedication to the country.   

According to Gates, these tales of patriotism are mere myths. In the Post article, the Harvard professor claims many ideas about Douglass are unfounded and that he was neither a patriot nor a Christian.

Rather, Gates says his research paints a different picture of Douglass, one as a man angry with his country and searching for God. 

He points to a time when Douglass, who was a runaway slave returning to the United States to help his fellow man, reportedly wrote, "I have no love for America. As such, I have no patriotism. I have no country."

In response to critics like these, Hunt says they are simply "cherry picking" fleeting moments rather than relying on the testimony of his life as a whole.

Hunt, a second lieutenant in the Army, thinks it's important that we remember "Douglass was not only involved in hot political issues of his time; he cared about the soul of the nation. Frederick Douglass believed that "the life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous." 

This West Point graduate thinks Douglass should be remembered as a man who disagreed with slavery and fought to clarify the mindset that espoused the idea "the evil of slavery was not written into the DNA of America."  

Instead, Douglass surmised that the Constitution did not support slavery, writing that it "could not well have been designed at the same time to maintain and perpetuate a system of rapine and murder like slavery, especially as not one word can be found in the Constitution to authorize such a belief."

According to Hunt, Douglass disagreed with the social climate and fought to change that, but he was still loyal to his country.

In this modern time of political upheavals and social strife, Hunt believes we can all learn from this great man, adding, "His legacy reminds us that our nation's future is inextricably tied to our nation's character."

As for his Christian faith, Gates claims the Douglass home was filled with books on different world religions.

Again, Hunt points us to the facts about Douglass, adding that he was not only "a licensed minister, Douglass was a man of God in his private life as well."

Douglass recounts his conversion moment, saying, "I finally found my burden lightened and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever."

There are many stories of Douglass who "as a slave who recently converted to Christianity, he would constantly search for opportunities to read scriptures out of the Bible—even though his master banned him from reading," Hunt said. 

Douglass continued to practice his faith and instilled this love for God's Word in his children.  Hunt asks us to look at his political life, spiritual life and his family life, noting that in the Douglass household each child was required to "to read scriptures out of the Bible before dinner each night."

Douglass understood the need for God and he wanted to pass down his relationship with Christ to his family through these disciplines of reading the Word of God.  

He is quoted as saying, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." 

Hunt says Douglass was a man we should all seek to emulate, noting he "set the example in his own family first."

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