With perturbation, I read Monday’s front page story “College to confer honorary degree on Douglass.”
As the author of “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia,” I am aware that 1) Douglass never attended a day of school in his life and 2) for more than a half-century he had relationships, associations and made contributions to institutions of higher learning.
In the press release from Washington College, it states, “Washington College is believed to be the first institution to award him an honorary degree since Howard University did so in 1872.” Douglass’ interaction with educational institutions was far more complex than getting honorary degrees — he was honored with more than the one contemporaneous degree from Howard.
In a letter to Washington College on January 18, 2018, I offered to share my “accumulated notes, citations, prints and documents pertaining to information on the dates and locations of [Douglass’] speeches, degrees and attendance at colleges throughout the country for nearly a half-century.”
I communicated that Howard University, of which the longstanding university archivist contributed a foreword to my book, was not the only institution to confer an honorary degree on Douglass during his lifetime. Washington College’s belief is their belief alone, not supported by scholarship and truth.
In 1854, Douglass addressed an estimated 3,000 people at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. According to Yale University’s John W. Blassingame, “Never before had a black person been the keynote speaker at the graduation exercises of a major American university.”
In January 1863, weeks after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass delivered a lecture, “Popular Error and Unpopular Truth” at Hillsdale College in Michigan. In 1871, Douglass joined the Board of Trustees of Howard University and in 1872 was conferred an LL.D. In 1874, Douglass addressed Bates College in Maine. In the 1880s, Douglass served on the Board of Trustees at Storer College in Harper’s Ferry and delivered a well-publicized commencement address on John Brown.
While on his 1886-1887 Grand Tour of Europe and Africa, Douglass visited “Mohameden College,” today known as Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.
In the spring of 1892, Douglass addressed thousands while delivering the commencement at Tuskegee University in Alabama. In June 1893, Wilberforce University in Ohio conferred a “Doctor of Laws” upon Frederick Douglass.
In his lifetime, Douglass was often asked where he got his education. His reported response: “Massachusetts Abolition University.”
Co-Founder, 16th & W Street Douglassonians