David W. Blight: Author, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

15 APR 2019 New York

David W. Blight discusses his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Frederick Douglass, Douglass’s path from slave to statesman, and why his ideas about freedom, equality and the promise of American idealism feel distinctly modern today.

On Douglass’s modern relevance: “If you read this book or if you just pick up a collection of Douglass’s speeches or read the first two autobiographies… you will, at times, just be stunned. You'll think that could have been in today's newspaper. That statement, that description, that outrage is exactly what I feel or those people feel now… whether it’s voting rights, the legacies of slavery, structural inequalities in our society, the manipulation of law to keep people divided or held back.” 

On Douglass’s lasting legacy: “There was no voice in the 19th century and few other voices since who have more to say, more to say poignantly than Douglass about what does it mean to be an American, who gets to be an American, what is this thing we call ‘diversity?’ In the nineties, we called it ‘multiculturalism.’ In the sixties and seventies, we called it ‘integration’ and ‘biracialism.’ We’ve always had different names for this thing called this dream of a society that can be so multireligious, so multiethnic, so multiracial and still live under the same Constitution, and the rule of law, and equality of law.”

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