Saturday, July 22, 2017

Leigh Fought's "Women in the World of Frederick Douglass"

Leigh Fought is Assistant Professor of History at LeMoyne College. She is the author of Southern Womanhood and Slavery: A Biography of Louisa S. McCord and an editor of The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series Three: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1842-1852.

Fought applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins:
At this point in the tour, Garrison fell deathly ill, leaving Douglass to continue alone and allowing him to meet with others uncensored. If the Boston Clique had rejected Douglass’s proposal as a potential burden and competition, others saw him, his fame, and the financing he brought from England as a possible savior.
This is high drama. We meet nineteenth-century, African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass early in his career, recently returned from two years abroad, flush with the means and desire to begin his own antislavery newspaper. Instead, his allies in the American Antislavery Society have thwarted his plans, insisting that he will better serve the cause as a lecturer and sending him on another multiple-week tour. He dodges them, finding others willing to pool their resources and entrust him with an editorship.

Page 99 concludes a three page expositionary pause that introduces a series of events crucial to the book’s central thesis. Page 100 returns to the main argument that women made Frederick Douglass with the machinations of Quaker reformer Amy Post bringing Douglass to Rochester to establish The North Star. Not long after, English abolitionist Julia Griffiths applied her business acumen to rescue the paper from the brink of failure and mobilize a heretofore dormant group of reformist women to support it. Success of the paper allowed Douglass economic, political, and intellectual independence through which he could prove that African Americans were capable of self-reliance. Furthermore, he used the paper’s office and pages to offer patronage and support to African American causes and leaders, both male and female. The success of this paper made him the celebrity Frederick Douglass.

The Griffiths friendship was also one of many with white women throughout his life, including his second marriage. The prurient interest that these associations have excited (but not those with black women) both then and now only underscores anxieties about black male sexuality around white women. Douglass and the women, therefore, used their acquaintance, public and non-illicit, challenge the hypocrisy and racism inherent in those fears.

Likewise, with his wife Anna, he challenged stereotypes of black families; and these two projects were often at odds. Moreover, his personal development as an abolitionist took him further away from the man that Anna had married. The tension that played out in their home began here and opened a window into the difficulties of life in an upwardly mobile black family subjected to constant public scrutiny.

While page 99 takes a break from the main argument of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, the quality of the whole is probably revealed in the storytelling, prose, and depth of research. If the page bores, infuriates, or intrigues the reader, thus will the book.
Learn more about Women in the World of Frederick Douglass at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Women in the World of Frederick Douglass.

--Marshal Zeringue