More Wisdom from Frederick Douglass: The Struggle

Clearly, much discussion about continuing struggles over racial oppression is generated daily across the country, although often outside the mainstream media and political sectors. Given the racial realism so well argued by Derrick Bell (see philosopher Tommy Curry’s provocative summary of these issues here), one has to wonder, can real multiracial democracy ever come to the United States? I ran across some provocative writings of Frederick Douglass today that always make me pause and think deeply about the ongoing struggles for justice and equality in this country.

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, one of the three or four greatest Americans ever in my view, said this in a famous speech in Canandaigua, New York, on August 3, 1857:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. . . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. . . . Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others. (Frederick Douglass, “The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies,” The Frederick Douglass Papers, ed. John W. Blassingame [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986], Volume 3, p. 204.)

Leave a Reply