Black History Month Series

Tell Your Valentine, “Happy Douglass Day” The Historic Holiday Among Former Slaves

This ‘holiday’ we call Valentines day, isn’t much different from those other days we celebrate in Western Culture, a corporate scheme to make some extra money. Something that we celebrate mindlessly, unaware of the meaning behind the day or it’s significance in our lives. How is St. Valentine relevant to me? He’s not, but each year I struggle to think of what to do, for who I’m dating at the time or for myself on those years I may be single. It wasn’t until this year I learned that February 14th is the day Frederick Douglass’ chose as his birthday. Although he had no documented knowledge of his age or birthdate, he stated “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it,” he chose this day and historically former slaves used February 14 to reflect on his life’s work and legacy. “Douglass Day” is a much more relevant holiday to me as a decent of slaves than Valentines Day. Knowing that my ancestors recognized this same day is empowering and liberating and we should continue to celebrate this day just as they had. 

Many of us recognize Douglass’ name but we don’t know the full story of his life, his long list of accomplishments and the work he’d done to renew the minds of blacks and whites in his anti-slavery speeches and writing. There aren’t many stories one could tell about the Slavery Era or the abolitionist movement without mentioning Frederick Douglass. Even in yesterday’s piece, which focused on Black oppression in the military, mentioned how Douglass was able to convert former slaves’ position on their place in the Civil War being influential regardless of their second class citizenship status in the U.S. His words convinced hundreds of slaves to enlist in the army after the emancipation proclamation was released. 

Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. As a young man his rebelliousness led to his being sent to a slave breaker for ‘seasoning’, who beat and tortured him for six months until one day he struck back. Douglass described the moment when we found the strength to fight, “Whence came the daring spirit necessary to grapple with a man who, eight-and-forty hours before, could, with his slightest word have made me tremble like a leaf in a storm, I don’t know”. From that point forward the slave breaker didn’t lay a hand on him. Douglass had broken the slave breaker, he broke the slave within himself, he revealed within himself an abolitionist spirit that guided him to saving hundreds. He later was able to escape slavery on board a train. His experience as a slave fueled his abolitionist stance while his education allowed for him to be able to express and share his experience with Blacks and whites in a revolutionary way. Many whites couldn’t believe that Douglass was once a slave when they head him speak. Not only was he a powerful speaker, he was a social reformer. He was unique because former slaves were limited in educating themselves as a result were not able to share their experiences so eloquently as Douglass. During the 1840s the orator toured Europe to raise money for the antislavery cause and in 1847 he was elected president of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. He was one of the most popular speakers in the anti-slavery movement. He was one of the free Blacks that helped to raise funds, provide shelter and transportation to fugitive slaves navigating the Underground Railroad. 

In his speeches he emphasized its consequences to the nation as a whole, “Slavery blunts the edge of all our rebukes of tyranny abroad the criticisms we make upon other nations only call forth ridicule, contempt, and scorn” he explained after returning from his travels in England. In 1841 Douglass invested $2,000 in starting his own newspaper, The North Star, named after the guide that slaves used to travel to freedom, later changed to Frederick Douglass’ Paper. The paper was used not only to attack slavery but also for political commentary and spreading awareness of social issues within the Black community. Douglass extended his views on the battle for humanity beyond slavery. He even took the unpopular position of supporting the movement for women’s rights. Douglass was the only male speaker at the first women’s right’s convention at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. 

The life and legacy of Frederick Douglass is worth celebrating for centuries. He is arguably the most influential African American of the nineteenth century, yet we glaze over his day of remembrance to buy overpriced chocolates and flowers (something we could literally whenever). The celebration of love is beautiful, but being aware of the illogical symbolism of St. Valentine and forcing a connection that isn’t there for our people can only be excused by ignorance. There won’t be another February 14th that I don’t shout Happy Douglass Day to my peers with the hope that they’ll look into the work of the speaker, writer, social reformer, statesman and abolitionist movement leader. He stood for the liberation of all people and his legacy should be recognized, at the very least, by the descendants of the people he worked so hard to liberate, us. 

Happy Douglass Day Brothers and Sisters, may the abolitionist spirit live on! #Abolishthe13th #EndLegalSlavery

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