Byron Williams: The Complexity of Frederick Douglass | Columnists

It is difficult to refute Douglass’ assertion. He, better than most of his generation, understood the American hypocrisy of the 19th century which extolled the virtues of freedom and equality underpinned by the paradox of slavery.

For Douglass, it was inconceivable for America to boast of its greatness while entangled in the ungodly covenant of human servitude.

As he declared, “Your prayers and hymns, sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him (the slave) nothing but pomp, fraud , deceit, impiety and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover crimes which would dishonor a nation of savages. There is not a nation on earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Pseudo-historians propose that slavery was a worldwide phenomenon as a way to absolve America’s immoral complicity. While true, it omits the high bar America originally set for itself when it enjoined freedom and equality as part of the American creed.

The power of Douglass’s remarks, in my view, was his ability to simultaneously deliver on American hypocrisy with his promise. The speech shows an uncanny understanding of the duality of rights and responsibilities required to be an American citizen that Douglass at the time of his remarks ironically denied.

Sharon D. Cole