‘If I sur­vive’

Pro­fes­sor un­rav­els new Fred­er­ick Dou­glass book

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE - By KAYLA RI­VAS kri­vas@star­dem.com

EAS­TON — Pro­fes­sor of Black Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land, Ce­leste-Marie Bernier dis­cussed her new book “If I Sur­vive” on Satur­day, Sept. 8, in the Water­fowl Fes­ti­val build­ing.

The 860-page work, sell­ing for about $19, is a col­lec­tion of pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished es­says, speeches, au­to­bi­ogra­phies and let­ters of the Dou­glass fam­ily. The au­thor said she has spent 20 years re­search­ing Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, read­ing ev­ery­thing he wrote.

The event opened with a mu­sic se­lec­tion from Friends in Faith,

com­pris­ing three gospel singers and self-ac­claimed his­tory buffs.

Eric Low­ery, pres­i­dent of the Fred­er­ick Dou­glass Honor So­ci­ety; Pa­trick Ro­gan, cre­ator and de­signer of the Shore Ex­plo­rations Fred­er­ick Dou­glass ex­hibit in the Water­fowl build­ing; and Priscilla Mor­ris, a lo­cal his­to­rian, all aided in the in­tro­duc­tion of Bernier.

Ro­gan in­formed the au­di­ence how, through con­ver­sa­tions with youth at Eas­ton Mid­dle School, stu­dents will be brought in to cre­ate ex­hi­bi­tion pro­to­types.

“How did Dou­glass be­come the most in­spi­ra­tional so­cial re­former the world had ever seen?” Bernier asked. “How did he be­come the po­lit­i­cal thinker that changed pres­i­den­tial pol­icy?

“How did he help women, chil­dren and men, bleed­ing and dy­ing on their jour­ney from the prison house of bondage to his home in Rochester, seek­ing free­dom from the un­der­ground rail­road?”

“How did he be­come edi­tor on the most long­stand­ing, most po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful news­pa­per writ­ten and pro­duced by AfricanAmer­i­cans in the 19th cen­tury?”

“He did not work alone,” Bernier said. “Anna Murray, Rosetta Dou­glass, Lewis Henry Dou­glass, Charles Re­mond Dou­glass, Fred­er­ick Dou­glass Jr. and An­nie Dou­glass were rev­o­lu­tion­ary and were rad­i­cals.”

Bernier took the au­di­ence on a wind­ing jour­ney of let­ters and pho­to­graphs in­cluded in her book, of­ten recit­ing the Dou­glass fam­ily’s words from mem­ory.

In speak­ing to the open­ing mu­sic se­lec­tion, Bernier said, “For Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, mu­sic was sal­va­tion.”

“‘Any­one who suf­fers the pain of the mind, let them take to mu­sic and it will heal them,’” she said, quot­ing Dou­glass.

Work­ing through the let­ters pro­jected onto a screen, Bernier re­vealed Dou­glass’ des­o­la­tion, lone­li­ness and pain, but also his fam­ily’s stead­fast sup­port for him.

“As the most pho­tographed Amer­i­can, black or white, in the 19th cen­tury, a man renowned for his beauty, the ques­tion of pain, ug­li­ness and a sense of de­hu­man­iza­tion plagued him all his life,” the au­thor said.

Fred­er­ick Dou­glass’s daugh­ter, Rosetta, sought to re­as­sure him, Bernier said. “Please do not grow de­spon­dent, I am here with you,” the au­thor read aloud, quot­ing Rosetta’s let­ter.

Bernier shared with her au­di­ence that Dou­glass’ youngest daugh­ter, An­nie, was one of the ear­li­est rad­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and po­lit­i­cal thinkers in the fam­ily

“At age 10, An­nie Dou­glass was an in­tel­lec­tual, bilin­gual work­ing in Ger­man, a thinker and her­self en­gaged and sup­ported the John Brown revo­lu­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to sur­geons, there was a con­ges­tion on An­nie’s brain, brought on by stress, re­sult­ing in her death at 10 years old.

“She died in dis­tress and tragedy ,think­ing about what hap­pened to John Brown” (an abo­li­tion­ist who was hanged), Bernier said, “and in anx­i­ety and ter­ror of what will hap­pen to her fa­ther.”

“Only in the last cou­ple of years

had we known her his­tory ex­isted.”

Later in her dis­cus­sion, Bernier said, “The ques­tion for Fred­er­ick Dou­glass was ... how to sur­vive the scars of slav­ery. How to phys­i­cally es­cape but also how to be men­tally, spir­i­tu­ally and emo­tion­ally free.”

“In un­der­stand­ing the life of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, we do not in 2018 need a Fred­er­ick Dou­glass that is a mytho­log­i­cal icon,” she said. “We need a Fred­er­ick Dou­glass con­nected to grass­roots com­mu­nity ac­tivism.”

The au­thor said ar­chives need only be re­viewed for two sec­onds be­fore see­ing Har­riet Bai­ley, Dou­glass’ mother, taught him to read and write, not whites.

“The black fe­male ac­tivists in his life were de­fin­i­tive,” she said.

Later she said, “This ques­tion of bod­ies and souls trans­lat­ing to dol­lars and cents lived with Dou­glass through­out his life in slav­ery, and lived with him through­out his life in free­dom.”

Bernier con­cluded by say­ing the pur­pose of her re­search is to share with oth­ers, pass­ing lessons on. She said she is work­ing with rad­i­cal ed­u­ca­tors on the East and West Coast to get the story into cur­ricu­lum.

Speak­ing to the ef­forts of the Dou­glass fam­ily, Bernier said, “Theirs was a move to­ward a new dawn of lib­erty.”


Ce­leste-Marie Bernier was all smiles af­ter her dis­cus­sion on her new book, “If I Sur­vive.”

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