Remarks on Frederick Douglass by Mary Church Terrell, Feb. 4, 1934
Frederick Douglass was undoubtedly the greatest man this country has ever produced. One has only to consider the depths from which he came and the heights to which he finally rose to realize that this is true.
Other men born in lowly conditions and reared in humble surroundings have achieved distinction and won success in various walks of life, it is true. But not one of these was born a slave and subjected to the cruelties which Frederick Douglass endured from the time he was ushered into this world till he became a man and then threw off his shackles by the sheer force of his unbreakable determination, his indomitable will and his fearless courage.
Frederick Douglass was the first bondman to prove that slaves were were endowed by nature with the same qualities of head and heart which men of other racial groups possess. By thousands of so-called Christians slavery was justified on the ground that God intended that the African should be held as a slave, because he had neither a brain nor a soul. As an orator Frederick Douglass was considered the equal, if not the superior of Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, William Lloyd Garrison and others of his day. Each and every one of those men enjoyed advantages superior to his in heredity, environment, education and the wherewithal to meet his daily needs..
Long before History Week was conceived while I was a member of the Board od Education in the National Capital in 1897 I introduced a resolution which was unanimously passed by the Board to make February 14th Douglass Day in our public schools. I was convinced then as I am to day that it is our duty to teach our youth that men and women of our racial group have distinguished themselves in various ways just as those of other races have done. For many years Douglass Day was faithfully observed in our public schools. If I had done nothing else during the 11 years I served as a member of the Board of Education than to make it possible for our boys and girls in Washington to learn what a great man Frederick Douglass was I should considere that my service in that capacity was well worth while.
It was my privilege to be well acquainted with Mr. Douglass from the time I was a young woman till he passed away. I was with him at a meeting of the National Council of Women held in the Columbia Theatre and walked a distance with him at noon on the day he passed away suddenly at his home in Anancostia, as he was telling his wife how the members of that organization had honored him by inviting him to the platform and giving him the Chautauqua salute.
Judge Terrell and myself spent many a pleasant Sunday evening in Mr. Douglass’ home. Being in the company of that great man was a joy, an education and an inspiration which it is impossible to describe.
No matter how poor in this world’s goods I might become, if one should promise to give me a fortune to sell him the honor and the pleasure which being Frederick Douglass’ friend afforded and thereby deprive myself of that blessed, rich experience I should reject his offer and remain in poverty the rest of my life.
Terrell, Mary Church. “Remarks on Frederick Douglass by Mary Church Terrell.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. 4 February 1934.