Historian Dr. David Blight On Modern Impact of Frederick Douglass

In conclusion of his two month book tour, former Michigan resident and current Yale professor, Dr. David Blight discussed his newest book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” Monday afternoon in EMU’s Student Center. 

Approximately eighty students and Eastern faculty were present. The event was opened with remarks from a representative from the university’s Provost Office.

Blight is an internationally recognized author and editor. In addition to his titles of historian and professor of American History, Blight has travelled the country on tour of his academic works. 

All dozen of Blight’s works involve topics on civil rights and Frederick Douglass. Blight began his career with a dissertation on the American Civil Rights Movement approximately thirty-five years ago. He has been awarded many prizes and titles since.

“Good historians make the best biographers,” Blight said about his career. The depth of his research on America, the Civil War, and Frederick Douglass provide him with the insight to write about these things. 

“There’s an order to writing. You gotta have a beginning, middle, and an end, and you’re supposed to have a few points there in the middle. So that’s what I did,” Blight said.

Blight discussed six main themes he developed in his book. Especially striking of these six themes is the concept of words. In the contemporary, Blight emphasized, words are the one thing that are still as influential today as they were in the time of Douglass.

According to Blight, Frederick Douglass was an avid writer. “Words were [Douglass’] only weapon,” Blight emphasized. “Douglass even had beautiful handwriting,” Blight added.

Blight also ties in religion to his biography of Douglass, likening him to a sort of American prophet. An old black pastor named Uncle Lawson was an influential adult in Douglass’ youth, Blight explained.

“Douglass was also incredibly steeped in the bible,” Blight said, “without a doubt because of his experience as a slave.” 

Douglass spent time with Lawson, listening to bible stories over and over, ultimately taking a liking to the book of Exodus in the bible, Blight explained.

“Every generation has their own exodus story,” Blight said, “and for Douglass, the contemporary Temple of Jerusalem was the United States, needing to be destroyed and rebuilt in freedom.”

Blight concluded his speech encouraging students not just to vote, but to run for office. “Writing is confidence. Thinking is confidence. Lots of things are confidence,” Blight said. “Patriotism is the truth about your past, as best as you can find it and face it,” he said. 

Douglass never spent a day in a formal school setting, Blight explained. “You’ll find yourself fighting with you own principles to keep them alive,” he said, but this is a necessary thing for our country, Blight concluded.


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