Today, February 20th is the anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s death. Douglass was a former slave who became an important figure in the struggle for the abolition of slavery. He was known for being a brilliant and fearless leader and speaker who fought tooth and nail against conciliation with the slave-owning class.
Douglass was uncompromising in his call for abolition. Initially he joined a wing of the abolition movement that believed this could be accomplished by appealing to the slave-owner’s morality. But, as the struggle developed, Douglass became convinced that slavery would only end through armed struggle, primarily that of Black slaves. In an 1857 speech Douglass said, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress,” and continued:
“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.”
We best honor Frederick Douglass’s memory by continuing the struggle against oppression. He fought to end slavery, but today we live in another oppressive system of which racism is an integral part – the wage slavery of capitalism. It is up to all of us to carry on his legacy by remembering his powerful words, and by continuing his struggle against the systems of oppression that we confront.