Week 16: Final Post Assignment

Hi Everyone,

Thank you for your interesting responses to the “Declaration of Sentiments” and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.”  It’s taken a while for these pioneering feminists and Civil Rights activists to get their due but in the past few years, more Americans are recognizing their achievements.  Just this past summer, for example, a statue was placed in NYC’s Central Park in honor of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

This is my final post assignment for the semester, and I want to introduce three more remarkable men and women who fought to establish the rights of women and the freedom of over 4 million enslaved African Americans: Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman.

Your final post (due Tues., Dec. 15th) is to respond to ONE of these author’s works and/or lives. Your final essay (2-3 pages) could also be an extended discussion of one or more of these figures based on the readings/videos listed below.

In the 1840s, 50s, and 60s, these and other abolitionists galvanized support in the North to end slavery in the South, upon which its entire economy was based. When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, the Civil War would soon begin, with northern troops (the Union) fighting southern confederates.  The war ended in 1865, a month before Lincoln was assassinated (April 15, 1865). The Civil War cost over 650,000 lives but succeeded in abolishing slavery forever. 

Key to insuring this freedom were poet Walt Whitman, former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas, and Harriet Tubman, a key figure in the underground railroad, which helped thousands of slaves escape from the south prior to 1865.

Walt Whitman: Brooklyn born Walt Whitman was an important poet, America’s most famous in fact, who celebrated the freedom of each and every American in his celebrated poem “Song of Myself” (1855), later collected in Leaves of Grass.  In addition to his theme of individual freedom and equality across race, class, gender (and even sexuality), Whitman also celebrated Nature, spirituality, and the simple joy of human existence. 

Here is brief biography of his life as well as the opening two stanzas from his famed poem “Song of Myself.”

Frederick Douglass: One of the most famous abolitionists of all was the former slave Frederick Douglass, who wrote a widely read autobiography of his life and experiences.  Here is a brief biography and a video of an actor reading his essay (also review text version): “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” (1852).

In addition to watching the above short videos, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND watching the recent film Harriet based on Harriet Tubman.  It’s an enormously powerful and moving film and will provide a poignant end point to this class, which has focused so much on the long battle for equal rights for all. [It’s on Amazon Prime — please watch if you can].

29 Comments

  1. Galileo D

    Walt Whitman
    Walt Whitman was a great American poet and throughout his lifetime, people did not show appreciation for his work especially Leaves of Grass which brought controversy among people. I think that Whitman’s influence in the American poetry was a game changer although people came to understand his poems in the 20th century. Interestingly, coming from a humble background, he started working at the age of seven in order to further income for his family. He worked as an apprentice for different newspapers and from this particular job, he learned about typesetting which furthers his skills. I think that this portrayed how hardworking and caring he was. In addition, during the Civil War, he helped the wounded soldiers at the time he was worried about his wounded brother. He gave hope to the patients when he worked as a volunteer in one of the hospitals in Washington D.C. Therefore, Walt Whitman was not only hardworking but also caring during his lifetime.
    The poem “from Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman reflects the poet’s self as well as the universe as a whole. The poem consists of the idea of self and how the self relates with the outside world and its relationship with the components of the outside world. It also indicates that self is a significant concept in the poet’s life, in that, within one’s life, there is the composition of experiences, mistakes, thoughts and ideas which help in relating with the environment. He seeks to explain that the self is not only about one’s individual thoughts but the self also comprises of the universal. It is the experiences from the universe that builds the individual self. In addition, I think that Whitman tried to include the mystical relationship with God as this togetherness which created peace within him.

    • Mark

      Insightful, post Galileo, which helps to demonstrate how Whitman was a real “a game changer’ as you astutely state.

  2. Manija Shouff

    On July 5th, 1852 Frederick Douglass made a speech regards to 4th of July, Independence Day. He asked people why he was invited and had to make a speech when 4th of July was Independence Day to everyone, but it did not concern him or the African Americans who were slaves, they had no independence. He did however mention that he was there to show his support for the founding fathers. Fredrick Douglas life is somewhat like Alexander Hamilton, he too came to NY and from here on their lives changed. He too as Hamilton was an advisor to the presidents, Douglas was appointed to several office positions and since he knew was literate, he accomplished many things where for Hamilton, writing was his strength which made him well known as well. Hamilton was one of the founding fathers and Douglas was one of the first African Americans to appear on a presidential ballot as vice-president.

    • Mark

      You make an interesting comparison here Manija between Hamilton and Douglass. They both rose to important political positions despite the challenges of being an immigrant (Hamilton) and an African American (Douglass).

  3. Afshan S (Lil B)

    WALT WHITMAN
    It’s sad to hear that Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was seen as a “disgraceful” book, and that he wasn’t really recognized as a great poet until towards the end of his life. It’s sad to hear when great artists don’t get to fully experience positive feedback from their audience until many years after the fact, Van Gogh being an extreme example where he never got to experience much positive feedback in his entire life. Fortunately, we live in a time where we can appreciate Walt Whitman’s work. There’s an amazing ice cream shop in Brooklyn called Ample Hills that gets its name after a line from Walt Whitman’s poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” in the lines:
    What is it then between us?
    What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
    Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not,
    I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
    I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
    I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
    It’s interesting to read his poetry even though it was published over 150 years ago, it’s very grandiose, and very “American” in the sense that his writing is not only self-celebratory, but his writing celebrates everything about life, of the body, and of the universe.

    FREDERICK DOUGLASS
    I never knew that Frederick Douglass had to buy his own freedom after becoming a bestselling author. That concept alone is so weird and unconscionable to think about. To make himself “whole,” he had to make his masters “whole” from losing out on any profits he would’ve made them – how bizarre. The time frame in which he lived also puts into perspective that slavery was only abolished 155 years ago, which basically means that only about two or three more generations existed fully free, possibly knowing their enslaved ancestors personally or with close details, and it’s been about 55 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Even though slavery is over, it doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist through the law or indirectly, and that even after George Floyd’s death in 2020, we all have to devote time from our lives to be anti-racist and to try to change society to become more anti-racist, so that future generations can hopefully spend less time being oppressed, and more time being themselves, like Walt Whitman was allowed to do.

    • Mark

      It’s great how you connect Whitman to Douglass in this post Afshan. While Whitman’s book was viewed as disgraceful, he at least received a measure of recognition in his lifetime.

      Your post also reminded me of an early recording of Whitman that is available, in which he
      uses his beloved word “ample”. That’s some great ice cream company by the way!

      Here the audio link, which I think you’ll appreciate:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBX2L_Re5Cc

  4. Marjan Ahmed

    I read somewhere that, “who knows pain better than the one experienced it”. I do not remember where I saw this quote but right after reading the “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” by abolitionist Frederick Douglass, it reminded of that quote. Frederick Douglass was an American abolitionist, a writer, an orator, who was enslaved and later escaped to become a national leader. After escaping slavery from Maryland, he started writing in New York and Massachusetts about antislavery and equality. United states got the freedom in 1776 from the British injustice but the Independence meant nothing to the salves since they were still living the same life. At the first part of his speech, he acknowledges the greatness of the founding fathers and their work just like every other Americans, but in the 2nd section of his speech, he breaks down the “freedom” for the slaves which is meaningless. In his article, Frederick Douglass mentioned, “…a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license…” The amount of pain knowing that, even though the country is free from the cruelty, but your life is going to continue the way it has been. According to a website digital history, almost 5000 slaves and free African American were involved in the revolutionary war against British. They fought in the Fort Ticonderoga and the battle of Bunker Hill. Yet the writing of Frederick Douglass proves the suffering of African Americans living in a free country. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.” Powerful words indeed, and there was nothing but to hope that one day all suffering would end.

    • Mark

      This is a poignant and very thoughtful response Marjan!

  5. Amoy Russell-Jonas

    As summarized in the film, the poem of Walt Whitman song did not have the exact title in the first edition, which was elucidated in the form of “Leave of grass.” This poem was branded as the poem of Walt Whitman that highlights several documentaries of American life. Due to its audacity concerning American plight, Walt Whitman changed the song title to “song of myself,” which dramatically represents the song’s meaning. The change in the meaning and title of the songs indicates the poem’s growth in the late century. However, the poem highlights three important themes, such as identifying the self with other-selves, the idea of the self, and the poet’s relationship with the elements of nature and the universe.
    The message, which is summarized in the film of Walt Whitman, indicates various rooms and houses which embody civilization, the atmosphere that symbolizes the universal selves and perfumes, which signify the person self. Notably, the self is perceived as a spiritual entity that remains constant in and variation flux of ideas constituted by permanent experiences, which constitutes conscious life. As it stands, Walt Whitman articulates his song with self-comprises experiences, spiritual insight, and psychological states. The aspect of self is the major significant idea of Walt Whitman states of mind and art. The self of Whitman is both universal and individual. Whereas the world has a universal self, so as man has an individual self. The poet maintains the individual self’s identity that consists of the specification of the poet’s self with humankind and the mystical union of the poet with God. In simple terms, the poem postulate that sexual union is a symbolic spiritual union of anticipation. The song “Myself” is a good example of the stylistic features of Leave of grass. This means that the artwork of Walt Whitman reflects his personalism.

    • Mark

      Excellent discussion of Whitman’s key themes Amoy.

  6. Richard Li

    After reading on the biography and speech of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass is one of the reasons why slavery is gone as well as better equality and human rights. Which is why there is a school named after him in Harlem, Bronx if I remembered correctly. Just like he was fighting for rights for humans, the school is there for the kids to go to because there weren’t many schools for people of color. Frederick Douglass tried and tried to escape many times, but ended up failing till he did it one day. To him, his fourth of July was a way of him saying that it is a day that shows what kind of cruelty that America has done, but in our eyes, it is a day where we gained independence. He fought for women’s rights and abolished many other problems that people faced back then. To this day there are not many men who would come forward to help fight for more women’s rights like Frederick Douglass and we need more of those because it causes many problems between people especially during times like abortion.

    • Mark

      I did not know that that about the school named after Douglass in Harlem. I believe 8th Avenue in Manhattan is also called Frederick Douglass Boulevard. You make a great point about Douglass’ grand importance and our collective need for people as courageous as him.

  7. chris castellon

    After reading Frederick Douglass’s biography and speech I am really impressed on how much of a great big impact he has on society today. Frederick was against slavery, so he took action and hoped it would reach the heart of the people and thank god it did. Frederick is one of the reasons slavery is no more and now there is better equality. That is why we celebrate independence day, the day we have gained independence. In my eyes Frederick Douglass is no different than Alexander Hamilton, they both had a rough beginning but moved to NY to change their lives in the end and which they successfully did, they gone up a long way because one of them became a vice president and the other became our founding father of the U.S.

    • Mark

      I do think Douglass may be our greatest American — as you suggest.

  8. Kaothar Dirta

    “What to the slave is the Fourth of July” July 5th, 1852
    Frederick Douglas was a slave who escaped from Maryland to New York. Frederick Douglas taught other slaves how to read. Douglas then became a prominent activist, author, and public speaker. Douglas was a leader in the abolitionist movement sought to end the practice of slavery , before and during the cilvil war. He also pushed for equality and rights until his death in 1895. Douglas was an advocate for women rights and women voting rights. Frederick Douglas is known for one of his most famous speeches he gave on July 5th, 1852 called “What to the Slave is 4th of July” as people celebrate the 4th of July many other Americans specifically African Americans were mourning. “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” In this quote Frederick Douglas explains the irony of the Fourth of July to a slave, the white folks are celebrating their independence, while slaves have to continue to suffer, which is unjust. How can you celebrate freedom when none of it exists? “The arm of the Lord is not shortened, and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope” Douglas remained to have hope that one day slaves will be free and there will be a change.

  9. Brianna Lesperences

    Frederick Douglas born into slavery was an abolitionist, social reformer and writer. He later became a national leader of the abolitionist movement. After reading his ““What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” July 5, 1852 excerpts, it helps give an insight to the thought and feelings of many African Americans towards this national holiday even today. One section that stood out to me and helped prove this point is when he answered the question to “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July”. He goes on to state “…a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery…” Frederick Douglas goes on to talk about the hypocrisy of the holiday during that time because it celebrated the independence of a country that didn’t allow others that same freedom. There are many African American’s that do not celebrate the 4th of July for that very reason, because of them not feeling comfortable celebrating the 4th of July it lead to the celebration of Juneteenth which started recently and is celebrated on June 19 for the emancipation of those who had been enslaved.

    • Mark

      Brianna,

      Your discussion of America’s hypocrisy and the supporting quote you provide are superb.

      What a great quote indeed! Thanks for reminding us all of the line’s brilliance — and

      anger:

      “To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery…”

  10. Lisbeth Rivas

    Walt Whitman was an American Poet who is known to be one of the greatest poets and was widely known for his collection of poetry in Leaves of Grass. The reason why he got famously known was that in his poems, he spoke about topics that were forbidden, such as sexuality, the human body, and its functions. In his poems, he wanted to express his individuality and his self. I think he was a man ahead of his time his goal was to convey a message in his poems about who he was and speak about American democracy. Leaves of Grass was considered controversial during the time because of its explicit sexual imagery. He was also a key figure in the era of Romanticism. He developed a style of poetry that had a distinctly American and democratic outlook.

    Frederick Douglas was an American activist, writer, abolitionist, and much more. After he escaped slavery he became a prominent speaker and activist who sought out to find an ending to slavery before and during the civil war. He also was a supportive figure in the women’s rights movement with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. One out of the many famous speeches that he did give was the 4th of July speech. Through his work, Frederick changed how Americans thought about slavery and race. On July 5, 1852, Douglas gave a speech about his thoughts on the declaration of Independence, he told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” The purpose of his speech was not to give praise to the country for releasing itself from British rule but rather to bring light to the country’s hypocrisy. He makes a point about how America is untrue to its founding principal’s both past and present. He goes on to say how they’re boosting Liberty and freedom while allowing slavery to happen. He did not want to celebrate a white man’s freedom. He goes on to critique America’s beliefs to be illogical while it claims freedom, it does not give all people that right.

    • Mark

      Very thoughtful responses to both Whitman and Douglass, Lisbeth.

  11. Jannatul Fateha

    Harriet is a fantastic biography of a female who single-handedly changed the lives of hundreds of slaves at some stage in the early 1900s. Born into slavery in Maryland, Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom in the North in 1849 to become the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of family members and other slaves from the plantation system to freedom on this elaborate secret network of safe houses. A leading abolitionist before the American Civil War, Tubman also helped the Union Army, during the war, working as a spy among other roles. After the Civil War ended, Tubman dedicated her life to helping impoverished former slaves, and the elderly. I give this movie five stars. I’m amazed at all she did in her life, and what an effect she had on such a lot of other lives, from her escape from slavery through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves, the story of a heroic abolitionist, Harriet Tubman said her life is a dynamic instance of the way God can lead, flow in the proper path. This film displayed a vivid Description that embodies what it approaches when spoken: “YOU CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS YOU” making what is stated to be not possible by the way of others with little to no faith possible. The affection for others and awakening in their spirits to be lifted via the war of slavery. Seeking a higher way to stay in freedom from captivity. Besides, how manufacturing captured a glimpse of the way lots may be done in case you don’t give up your fight & ardor to look at a brighter day. Harriet’s reward sadly became not in complete bloom earlier than she passed directly to glory. But in her generation, she reigned within the midst of her combat to bear actual witness to those she leads. All of us may want to analyze an issue or two away to fulfill lifestyles of charismatic and notable stature while we think no longer of ourselves a lot we neglect about others. Nevertheless, how help can come from an exceptional area while compassion and empathy rest on our hearts.

    • Mark

      Jannatul, I’m so glad you got a chance to see this important and moving film. You do a fantastic job discussing key scenes and lines that speak to Harriet’s courage and majesty. Nicely done.

  12. Najeh Marcus

    I remember reading a part of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography in 11th grade. If I still remember correctly Frederick was taught to read and write by his owners’ wife. His slave owner her to stop as one day she stopped teacher Douglass. I also think that he suspected that he was the slave owner’s son. Douglass then started teaching himself how to read and write I think by asking other kids what they learned in school. I’m surprised that Douglass was asked to speak for the Fourth of July. He calls the Fourth of July a sham and talks about America’s hypocrisy. I never knew he was asked to speak for the Fourth of July but everything he said he had a good point. The way a lot of slave owners treated their slaves is much worse than what then how the British treated the colonist. For the American people that was when they became free of the British. But for Black Americans like Douglass, that day doesn’t have any meaning because they are still enslaved and are treated less than people. Frederick Douglass truly was a remarkable person. He used his literacy to his advantage to help fight against slavery.

    • Mark

      I’m impressed you recalled so much from your High School class on Douglass! He truly was an extraordinary man, perhaps America’s greatest American — as you suggest.

  13. jawad awada

    There is no question about it that there have been many important people that have come before and done some remarkable work and till this day their work is being appreciated. After reading the biography and speech regarding Frederick Douglass he showed that he was not going to tolerate the presence of slavery and made it clear that a change must happen. During that time slavery was everywhere and for someone to have the courage to try to change that showed that no matter what he was going to stand up for his beliefs and for what he felt like was the right thing to do. His courage and belief that change was possible, and being able to bring those changes to life marks him as one of the most important men in this country’s history. He fought for all humans to have the same right and he believed equality can be achieved and he made it his mission to try to work towards that belief. Unlike many other famous historical figures Frederick Douglass fought for many different rights (end of slavery, equal right for everyone and women rights) which for this reason alone should put him at the top of the list when discussing the most influential people regarding change. He went from being born into slavery to being the leader of the abolitionist movement and ultimately making a huge difference in society. He also believed that independence day should not have been considered a day for celebration because during that time there were still many people who were not given the same freedom as others.

    • Mark

      Excellent discussion of Douglass’s importance, Jawad.

  14. Daniela Martinez

    Frederick Douglass
    When I was in high school, Frederick Douglass was mentioned several times in my US History and AP English class. I had a brief idea of who he was and his accomplishments but learning his life through the video inspired me. He was born as a slave and fleed for freedom to New York. Moreover, he had a dream of making other African-American slaves being freed and educated as him. Also, I found it interesting that his master’s wife decided to educate him and not get in trouble. Since being literate was forbidden for African-American slaves, Douglass being the exception of them and using his intelligence to help others is truly impactful for his period and the present.

    Furthermore, when I listened to the video of his famous speech, “What to the Slave is 4th of July?” interpreted by James Earl Jones, I found the relationship between his speech’s message with his role as a preacher. On the other, the delivery of Douglass’ idea of African-American slaves not being identified with the 4th of July was a powerful approach. I could perceive what he wanted to convey in one of the speech’s sentences mentioned in the video, such as “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary[…] Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.” If I lived during that period as a slave, I would have shared the same thought as him. Although slavery ended around 155 years ago, we still face social issues today, such as discrimination and racism, which had led to many people think of Frederick Douglass’ speeches and use them as social criticism.

    Indeed, he was a brilliant and influential person, and still on today.

    • Mark

      Very illuminating discussion, Daniela. You really get to the heart of Douglass’ greatness and importance.

  15. Ashley

    Out of the three incredible people that helped establish the right of freedom for about 4 million slaves, I decided to watch the film “Harriet,” I usually tend to avoid historical movies, but this one was definitely worth the watch. During my high school era, we were briefly taught about Harriet Tubman, but they clearly didn’t tell us everything because I learned so much about her. Harriet is most definitely one of the strongest women I’ve ever learned about, she did everything she had to do to get her, her loved ones, and more than 700 other slaves to freedom. I always say that slavery was one of the lowest points in history, what those people had to go through was absolutely terrifying just because of their skin color. Furthermore, Harriet was very passionate, she didn’t care what lengths she had to go through, but to free the many slaves, did whatever. The scene that really had me tearing up was near the end, and hundreds of slaves were running to the boats for freedom, it was such a beautiful scene of victory. All in all, the movie was excellent, and I just want to say that Harriet is an extraordinary person, and I hope that she’s someone that inspires people forever.

    • Mark

      I’m so glad you got to watch this moving and important film, Ashley. You nicely capture the film’s importance and the extraordinary character and spirit of Harriet Tubman. NIcely done!

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