Lloyd Weaver, the paternal great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, shared his thoughts on the legacy of the 19th-century abolitionist in a personal interview.
In honor of the bicentennial birthday of Frederick Douglass, the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, in conjunction with AKILA WORKSONGS, presents a conversation with Lloyd Weaver, the great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, on Monday, February 26. Joined by award-winning author and journalist Herb Boyd and moderated by Dr. Brenda M. Greene, Weaver will discuss his insights on the personal and political life of Douglass and on the implications of his legacy today.
Lloyd Weaver was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C. and raised in Harlem. The writer and veteran television producer is the paternal great-great-grandson of 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He shared his thoughts on the legacy of his great-great-grandfather in a personal interview.
BKR: Mr. Weaver, as the great-great-grandson of such an influential African-American historical person as Frederick Douglass - how present has he been in your personal and in your family's life?
LW: The conversation about my great-great-grandfather was fairly constant, in reference to him, his nature, his character, his attitude towards this country and the condition of Black people in this country. Those insights with regards to his character imposed themselves on the family and they certainly imposed themselves upon me. I did consider myself having a deep commitment to the cause of the liberation of the African and African-American people in this country. That probably guided a lot of things that I have done throughout my life.
[perfectpullquote align="full" bordertop="false" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]The civil rights movement, the periods of Jim Crow and lynching, and even the reconstruction - all of these various periods in our history went a lot different than he expected.[/perfectpullquote]
BKR: What are some of those thoughts about Frederick Douglass that you want to share on Monday?
LW: Frederick Douglass had an absolute devotion to the liberation of his people, to the point where he almost saw us a nation within a nation. At the time of his passing, he seemed to be more preoccupied with the idea that the civil war had been won, and that it was up to us to lift ourselves up and blend into the American ethos. And he was sure that that would happen over time. As we know that didn't happen; it still hasn't happened.
I think he would have maintained and even increased his militant stance over the years instead of taking appointments from the federal government and being about venerated as a hero of the revolution that never really occurred. The civil rights movement, the periods of Jim Crow and lynching, and even the reconstruction - all of these various periods in our history went a lot different than he expected. He would have expressed his resentment and encouraged us to be even more embattled in the continuing struggle with the people who founded this country and their descendants.
BKR: During Monday's celebration you also plan to speak on Anna Murray Douglass, your great-great-grandmother. What do you want folks to know about her?
LW: Anna Murray Douglass is somebody who should be in the mouths and hearts of all African-American people, along with Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. It was Anna who recognized the character of this man, Frederick Douglass. She plotted and organized his escape, encouraged him to make that ultimate move and actually made the contacts in New York and New Bedford, which would be the places that he would escape to.
When they finally got to New Bedford, she made sure that he had gone to the abolitionist movement, that he met the right people. She suggested to them what his usefulness might be and made sure that it happened. And she would sit and hold the lamp for him, even though he was dead-tired from working all day, while he was writing the notes for his presentations at abolitionists' events. She organized the whole household, including the children, so that they would understand what the family was devoted to. She ran stations of the underground railroad in every home that they lived.
When Douglass came back from Europe, she had it all set up for them to move to Rochester to start the newspaper. The newspaper itself was a family affair and became a role model for African-American independence and for the devotion to our struggle. So she is a very important heroine in the history of African-Americans in this country and she should be honored and remembered as such.
[perfectpullquote align="full" bordertop="false" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]This country elected this president. It says something about what the country feels about itself and feels about a lot of issues. What we see now just points out the truth of what Frederick Douglass felt about this country.[/perfectpullquote]
BKR: Frederick Douglass spoke on behalf of a variety of causes such as women's rights and free public education, among others. Considering where we are today, also with regards to the current US administration - what are your thoughts on the importance of Douglass in the age of Trump?
LW: I think we are in a period where the true nature of America is there for all to see. Douglass defined the United States in very accurate terms which are now just being reflected because this country elected this president. It says something about what the country feels about itself and feels about a lot of issues. What we see now just points out the truth of what Frederick Douglass felt about this country. And as it relates to the people who were dragged over here, the slaves, they have become "surplus," but definitely not citizens. Douglass would have constantly responded to that and would have encouraged our present [African-American] leadership to imbibe as the seed of their own philosophy of our continuing struggle.
BKR: This current climate, the continuous attack on civil rights, women's rights that now under the Trump administration appears to be more blatant - do you think it could offer the opportunity for discourse among all Americans, or is it wishful thinking?
LW: I think that is wishful thinking. Americans have a heritage. Their heritage has been defined by their founding fathers and the documents that they wrote which defined what America would be. And America has always been true to that heritage. That heritage encompasses the word racism.
I don't necessarily even fault people for being on their own side. W.E.B. Du Bois once said: "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." As a sociologist, he knew that people are functioning in groups and ultimately those groups are the Black and the White. And Douglass began to advocate for other issues at a time when he was sure when the issue of color was going in the right direction. He would have never imagined the horrors that we lived through the last 150 years. The point where we are now was always inevitable. Frederick Douglass would say: "See - we must have our own, we most control our own destiny through social and economic ownership."
Over the years, we have successfully fought and gained certain advantages. But we always had to fight to control and maintain them. The gains that we have made are falling apart. Our community schools are dreadful, even disappearing. hospitals and health facilities are moving away from our communities. The employment sector - we all know about that despite the manipulations of facts and figures the present administration is always trying to put in our face. Gentrification shows that we are even losing our neighborhoods, we are being scattered. Our ability to struggle together is increasingly difficult.
BKR: You said Frederick Douglass was under the impression that the question of color would go in the right direction - so what went wrong?
LW: He was too optimistic. And he grew old. Like all of us. We get tired after a certain point, and we'd rather just sit down and muse, and get seen by others for our sage advise and thoughts. Working for the government, advocating for issues like women's rights. Those are the things that get reported.
However, we're talking about a man who was extremely consistent in his actions and talks in light of his own sufferings and the sufferings of his people. And if he had any idea that reconstruction would take the turn that it did, that is where his concentration would have remained. And perhaps it did remain there, but it wasn't reported. He was used very much as an advocate for women's rights in this country, and he is well-remembered for that. And that's how this country functions in terms of how it writes its history: It rewrites it in a way to encourage people that everything's going to be alright.
BKR: How do you think Frederick Douglass's legacy will be kept alive?
LW: As our own leaders continue to scramble for some kind of unity among them, Frederick Douglass can be a constant point of reference, if we stay on the point that he was about the eradication of the subjugation of African and Black people throughout the world. That's what he was and should remain. If we go through his papers and writings, we see a central philosophy. If we follow that philosophy, it will help us to attain our goals: The ability to live on this continent with a total degree of self-determination and the ability to govern our own destiny. It means social and economic independence.
We need to write our own history, we should write it in our own favor. We should take lives of individuals like Frederick Douglass who were uncompromising advocates of the self-determination of Black people, and we should highlight them.
BKR: What is Frederick Douglass's quintessential message that should be carried on?
LW: That we should never forget one another. A lot of us are somewhat comfortable in this country as far as to how we live and our attained social status. He constantly referred to his brethren and sistren who were still enslaved, in bondage in one way or the other. He never forgot them. His conscience should be the basis for our own morality in everything we do. Every black person should be able to look at whatever he does in life and answer the question: "What does this have to do with my people?"
A Celebration of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial
When: Monday, February 26, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm Where: Medgar Evers College at the Edison O. Jackson Auditorium, 1638 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn
The event is free and open to the public.