On Invizibilization

Feb 18, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Anna joined Frederick there and they were married. He was proud of his marriage certificate as a symbol against the invisibilization of Black couples. They then moved to New Bedford, Mass. where he changed their last name. They welcomed all to their houses in Massachusetts, including runaways. 

At some point, while Frederick was on tour as a speaker in Pennsylvania, he met a young fugitive woman named Ruth Cox. He brought her home, calling her his sister, Harriet Bailey, whom he hadn’t seen in years. Harriet lived with Anna and the boys while Frederick went on tour in England, Ireland and Scotland for almost two years.

I have never heard mention that Anna could have been fined or jailed for helping Frederick escape from Baltimore or for harboring her husband or a fugitive in Massachusetts.

Anna’s strength was as the family’s banker and organizer. Harriet, who was also from the Eastern Shore, taught Anna her letters. At least once while Frederick was abroad, Anna wrote him a letter.

Contrary to claims that Anna could never have taught Frederick middle-class ways, most likely she could have told him which fork went where. She was familiar with formal dinner parties.

It took years on the lecture circuit before Frederick’ speeches, books and pamphlets made a profit. In Rochester, Anna and the children lived frugally and saved for big purchases. 

Frederick could not have fulfilled his talents without the larger abolitionist network, nor Anna’s support. But they had first learned about abolition in Massachusetts from activists who did not believe in voting.

It horrified some in their circle when he decided that voting was, in fact, essential. Not only then, in the 1850s, but in 1870 when voting rights for Black men was passed, activists had bitter conflicts among themselves.

After his death in February 1895, Frederick was honored and written about extensively, but the family’s legacy faded. He was honored with the first memorial statue to a Black man in 1899. She was honored with the renaming of a Rochester City School in 2018. The entire Douglass family was honored with the unveiling of a large mural at Frederick Douglass GRI Airport in December 2021.

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