Frederick Douglass, human rights leader in the fight against slavery, has been in the news even more than usual this February. Now, we’re piling on to celebrate the birthday he chose for himself.
His actual birthday isn’t known, but Frederick Douglass selected February 14 as the date to mark his birth. Originally, Black History Month was celebrated as Black History Week during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).
For researchers, thoughtfully curated and enriched digitized primary source materials – such as ProQuest’s Black Abolitionist Papers, Historical Newspapers and History Vault – are a trove of crucial information for in-depth scholarly insight into the life and accomplishments of Douglass.
However, ProQuest also provides researchers with additional resources to creatively complement primary sources. For example, works of literature can augment research with an emotionally immersive experience, and a more visceral approach to understanding the impact and legacy of historic events and people, such as slavery, the abolitionist movement and Frederick Douglass.
Douglass, who died 100 years ago, endures as a quintessential American hero because he embodied some of the most exalted, idealistic qualities of United States:
in the words of Langston Hughes in his auspicious poem, “Freedom Plow.” But “Freedom Plow” isn’t the only poem Hughes penned with Douglass as his muse, nor is Hughes the only author who was influenced by this dauntless champion of human rights, activism and education.
A search in ProQuest’s comprehensive Literature Online (LION) database using the term “Frederick Douglass” turns up 3511 hits, spanning more than a century of literature. The collection encompasses 35 poems and 9 works of drama supplemented with 72 reference listings and a whopping 3300+ results in criticism.
The LION database also provides researchers with access to the full-text of Douglass’s 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a first-hand account of the pain, humiliation and brutality of slavery, a work that was pivotal in igniting the abolitionist movement in the U.S., leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation.
One of the earliest works in the literature collection related to Douglass is an 1856 poem by pastor and abolitionist, E.P. Rogers, “The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise.” According to the LION biography, “Rogers’s clever and courageous attacks on slavery distinguished him from other African-American poets of the antebellum period.”
“The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise” is a satirical 925-line poem, including a dialogue between “Slavery” and “Freedom,” condemning pro-slavery legislation. The poem, bearing several references to Douglass – “...(mighty man,/Whose powerful eloquence can fan/The human passions to a flame/Whene’ever he speaks in Freedom’s name)” – instills a profound sense of Douglass’s influence during his lifetime, with insight into what he signified to his contemporaries, expressed in rousing octosyllabic couplets, meant to be read aloud.
Just as Rogers’s work provides insight into how Douglass inspired people in his lifetime, “In Memoriam” poems Cordelia Ray and Eloise Bibb reveal the wrenching sense of loss people experienced when he died. Throughout the following decades, over the course of various literary eras and social movements, from the Harlem Renaissance, to the civil rights and women’s rights era, generations of poets employed the rhythm and imagery of poetry to express and explore the significance of Douglass’s legacy.
Librarian-publisher-poet Dudley Randall’s “Frederick Douglass and the Slave-Breaker” intimately recreates a key scene of brutal confrontation from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to reveal an epiphany; educator-editor-poet Sterling Plumpp’s “Quilomban” places Frederick Douglass in the context of a long of history of racial exploitation, going back to a community of fugitive slaves in colonial Brazil, through the 20th century and segregation and apartheid. Feminist poet, Adrienne Rich, who according to her LION biography “displays intense preoccupations with place, roots and heritage,” conjures the spirit of Frederick Douglass in her poem “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children” as she explores themes of domination and writing “in the oppressor’s language.”
Through works like these, a deeper understanding of the ongoing influence of Douglass emerges, even as struggles continue for freedom and equality.
In the words of Hughes, in his poem, “Frederick Douglass: 1917-1895”: “He died in 1895./He is not dead.”
Every day, around the world, students and scholars turn to Literature Online for the texts and information they need to advance their literary studies. Literature Online is unique in bringing primary works, reference materials, and literary criticism together – packaging them in an intuitive research environment that allows users to find quickly the information they need and make exciting new discoveries. No other resource provides such comprehensive support for the study of English literature – facilitating the research journey with the texts users need, and the contextual resources to understand them.
For libraries, Literature Online reduces the work of managing journal subscriptions and saves budget on book renewals. For faculty and students it creates opportunities for new forms of study and analysis.
- Black Abolitionist Papers
Covering the period 1830-1865, the collection presents the massive, international impact of African American activism against slavery, in the writings and publications of the activists themselves. The approximately 15,000 articles, documents, correspondence, proceedings, manuscripts, and literary works of almost 300 Black abolitionists show the full range of their activities in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Germany. This collection, when first published in microfilm, literally transformed scholarly understanding of Black activism during this period. Now it is available in a searchable, easily accessible format for research, teaching, and study.
Included in the collection are such types of primary documents as:
> Correspondence of major African American leaders
> Speeches, sermons, and lectures
> Articles, essays, editorials, and other major writings from more than 200 newspapers: African American, abolitionist, and reform newspapers
> Receipts, poems, and other miscellaneous documents
- History Vault
Extensive archival collections documenting the most important and widely studied topics in eighteenth- through twentieth-century American history.
- Black Thought and Culture
Landmark electronic collection of approximately 100,000 pages of non-fiction writings by major American Black leaders covering 250 years of history.
- Black Studies in Video
Featuring award-winning documentaries, newsreels, interviews and archival footage surveying the evolution of black culture in the United States.
- Black Historical Newspapers
Covering major movements from the Harlem Renaissance to Civil Rights, as well as events from everyday life, this collection provides unprecedented access to perspectives and information excluded or marginalized in mainstream sources.
- African-American Studies Ebook Collection…new from ProQuest on Ebook Central.
Be sure to register today for our ACRL webinar on March 28, 2017: How Does the Past Inform Today? Key Primary Source Collections for Research in Social Movements with special guest speakers, Thomas Dublin and Kathryn Sklar. Plus, catch our Black History webinars by our trainers during February that explore how specific resources enhance research.
Learn more and sign up for free trials of these and additional resources to enhance research during Black History Month and all year.