Now scrolling: The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Douglass and King: What if they had traded places?

On this weekend celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, one wonders what things would have been like if King and Frederick Douglass had traded places. What if King had lived during the Civil War and been the one to advise Lincoln on matters of equal rights and emancipation? Would his thinking have been any different from Douglass’s?

Both men were African Americans in tune with their times and impatient for social change. Both were strong orators. Both had the ear of politically powerful people and became powerful in their own right. Both were anxious to have racial justice backed by law. There’s no question that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been the Frederick Douglass of the 1860's.

But what about Douglass? Suppose he had been thrown into the politics of the Sixties? Would he have been the Martin Luther King, Jr. of that day? Even in his time, Douglass was concerned not just with racial equality, but with the emancipation of women – another radical idea. The Sixties would have suited him well with its air of new freedoms and he would have been right in step with the issues.

Which brings up the next thought. While Douglass escaped assassination in his day, would he have done so in the Sixties, or shared the same fate as the man who so resembled him? Hmm. There’s a choose-your-own-ending adventure here.

Interesting that these two powerful men rose up at crucial times when their talents and strengths were most needed to push forward racial justice causes. No one has quite illustrated the similarities between them the way they have with Kennedy and Lincoln, yet Douglass and King bear curious resemblances that tie in with the whole 100-year picture of repeated history.

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