Monday, January 19, 2009

“Frederick Douglass”

I’m posting the following poem by Robert Hayden, both in acknowledgment of Martin Luther King, Jr Day, & also in honor of Barack Obama’s inauguration as President tomorrow. Hayden is a poet worth exploring—he studied under W.H. Auden, & this appears to have been a good match for his talents; both poets display ease while working with form, both can shift between a high & a more colloquial rhetorical level, & both wrote poems explicitly about politics. Hayden's work also was informed by Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes & Countee Cullen. In 1976, Hayden became the first African-American to hold the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

For those who’d like to know more about the great Frederick Douglass, please take a look at the Wikipedia page about him; Douglass was a highly influential man in the 19th century, being a prime mover in the abolitionist movement, & a man who fought for civil rights for all thru his work as a lecturer, a publisher & a writer. Douglass served as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War & championed the adoption of constitutional amendments guaranteeing voting rights & other civil liberties for blacks. He also was the first African-American nominated to run as Vice-President (in 1872, on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Victoria Woodhull, herself the first woman to run for President).

Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole
, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees
, exiled, visioning a world
where none
is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bron
ze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thi

Tomorrow’s inauguration will be a historic event, & it is to be hoped a step toward better times for this country & also a step toward the U.S. taking a more reasoned & open stance toward our neighbors around the world. But President Obama’s taking office doesn’t mean that we don’t still have critical civil rights battles ahead of us; prison statistics concerning people of color tell us this; the neglect of inner city public schools tell us this; California Proposition 8 tells us this; the fact that we still haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment tells us this; the wage comparisons between male & female workers tell us this—as well as wage comparisons for either the inner city or the rural poor & the more affluent suburbanites. Men like Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King, Jr. would remind us of this, as would women like Mother Jones or Emma Goldman. Citizen K's post today is titled: "Let us strive on to finish the work we are in,"a quote from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, & a reminder to us, in a different context, that we must constantly strive against the forces of malice both within us & around us.

Although we may forget this in our politics & in our lives, we are all brothers & sisters.


  1. Robert,
    I enjoyed reading your comments on our new President Obama, the historic event we have witnessed, and the excitement, hope, and optimism that much needed change is taking place. You said, “it is to be hoped a step toward better times for this country & also a step toward the U.S. taking a more reasoned & open stance toward our neighbors around the world.” I couldn’t agree more. But yes, there is still more to be done regarding women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, and equality for all. I was as shocked as you may have been that Prop 8 passed by voters here in CA. The pendulum is swinging, and I personally feel it is time...prior to Lincoln, and during his time, many stood on platforms insisting on freedoms, and rights for woman and slaves; Lincoln, Douglas and others began the movement for change, and now it is up to all of us, including our President, to continue to make it a better country and better world.

  2. Linda:

    Thanks so much for stopping by. Yes, the Prop 8 business was the one huge dark cloud on an otherwise bright election day. I've written about it elsewhere on the blog, & the weekly poem for this coming Saturday (2/22) will address it a bit as well.

    Again, thanks for stopping by & leaving such a thoughtful comment.

  3. John (AKA Robert LOL)
    I'm enjoying reading your blog, lots to read and enjoy...I read your previous blog and look forward to what you have to say coming up on Sat.

  4. Hi Linda:

    So glad you enjoyed the blog, & very much appreciate your following RFB. I took a quick look at your blogs yesterday evening & will look them over more closely today; they both look quite intriguing.

  5. For more info on Woodhull (and Douglass), see:,674201.aspx

    I enjoy your blog!

  6. Ms Carpenter: Thanks for stopping by & for posting the link to the Victoria Woodhull book--it looks like something the readers here might find interesting--not to mention the blog contributors!

    Glad you enjoyed the blog, & thanks again.


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