We must not be frightened nor cajoled into accepting evil as deliverance from evil. We must go on struggling to be human, though monsters of abstractions police and threaten us. Reclaim now, now renew the vision of a human world where godliness is possible and man is neither gook nigger honkey wop nor kike but man permitted to be man.
Frederick Douglass (An Excerpt)
by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)
We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent thro’ out the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry
O’er all that holds us we shall triumph yet
And place our banner where his hopes were set!
Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o’er the gale!
Thou ‘st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And rising from beneath the chast’ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!
Leadership eventually answers to history, not the moment. The decisions made in the face of chaos with hardly a breath between them in the most dire of circumstances will be carefully pursed from every angle for generations of historians in the coming decades. The luxury of hindsight and time will whittle away at the facade of pride, ego and even courage and lay bare the humbling nature of war, that not even the victorious, are free of failure. I am not a historian, but I see no path to anything other than chaos and destruction unfolding in Ukraine. Its why the current failure of leadership around the world, failure of governments to lead at this critical time in human history, is so distressing to those that believe that collectively we can do better than we are doing on a multitude of fronts; global warming, basic human rights, democracy, health care, equity, the list is endless. And it is why the failure of leadership in the past, is now coming back to haunt the diplomats of today.
I am going to end where I began the month with Frederick Douglass. Douglass met with President Lincoln several times during his presidency. We would never know what their partnership could have yielded had Lincoln not been killed. Both men were incredibly skilled in the art of oration, of inspiration, of ethical leadership at levels that are so profoundly beyond the levels of leadership of all political stripes today, it astounds. Each man’s best speeches read more like poetry than political discourse.
Frederick had been one of Lincoln’s harshest critics right up until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which changed everything. The two met shortly after when the Confederacy declared that all African Americans who fought on the side of the Union would not be treated with the rights of prisoners of war, but would be executed or re-enslaved on the basis of being illegal insurgents. Remember that all of the Confederate Generals who were to carry out this order had trained together at West Point with their Union counterparts. The parallels to the insanity unfolding in Ukraine is only that when men scheme to control their future without a foundation of morality their failure is assured, it is only a matter of time. Fascism never succeeds long term. The free people of Ukraine will ultimately win, but the question is at what cost? And how long will be the shadow of the scar of today remain?
Douglass delivered his own eulogy of Lincoln several weeks after Lincoln’s death on the National Day of Mourning. Below are several excerpts for Douglass’ eulogy that seem particularly poignant at this moment in time. May peace yet prevail in the Ukraine, in the United States and in our own communities.
Henceforth we have a new date, a new era for our great Republic: Henceforth a new account is opened,between the government and the people of the United States: Henceforth there is to be no north no south in American politics, but a common country of all for all: Henceforth the nation assumes a new position and a new relation to the nations of the Earth: Henceforth an American citizen may defend his country at the tribunal of the world’s judgement,without defending a glaring inconsistency and a scandalous crime:Henceforth there is an end to that compromising statesmanship—which has so deeply demoralized both the Government and the people:Henceforth we shall stand an acknowledged power among the great powers of Europe and exert a beneficent influence in the destiny of nations.Out of the vast and dreadful concatenation of evils which have environed us,brought upon us during these four years of treason rebellion and assassination, we shall yet be the recipients of immeasurable and priceless blessings: It is something that the crash has come and that the worst is known—that the storm cloud has burst and sent down its bolt and has left the blue sky above,calm and bright as when the morning stars sang together for joy!
Frederick Douglass – Lincoln Eulogy
A more tranquilizing thought comes to us on this occasion. That thought is the inevitability of the conflict. It was beyond the power of human will or wisdom—to have prevented just what has happened. We should never forget that this dreadful war with all its incidents was a part of—and sprung out of the fundamental elements of our national structure—and was in the nature of things unavoidable. We have but reaped where we had sown. Its hour had come, and there was nothing left but to make room for it, to accept it, and derive from it, whatever advantage it brought. We could no more evade it, than we could unmake our anticedents.
When slavery was first planted in the national soil, treason, rebellion and assassination were planted with it and their bloody fruit was bequeathed to the present generation. And if in the coming reconstruction, we shall encorporate any of the seeds of injustice, any of the remains of slavery, we shall repeat the mistake of our fathers, with the certainty that our children after us will reap a similar harvest of blood to that we have just experienced.
All the great nations of the Earth, no matter how isolated their location, no matter how iron like their ruler no matter how conservative their statesmen, no matter how carefully they exclude the light of new ideas—are fated to pass through what may be termed their historical periods—certain grand epochs, made up by the irrepressible tendencies of their inherent social forces, coming upon them whether they will or not.
Frederick Douglass – Lincoln Eulogy
In Memoriam – Frederick Douglass (An Excerpt)
by Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1852 – 1916)
Yes! our great chief has fallen as might fall
Some veteran warrior, answering the call
Of duty. With the old serenity,
His heart still strung with tender sympathy,
He passed beyond our ken; he’ll come no more
To give us stately greeting as of yore.
We cannot fail to miss him. When we stand
In sudden helplessness, as through the land
Rings echo of some wrong he could not brook,
Then vainly for our leader will we look.
But courage! no great influence can die.
While he is doing grander work on high,
Shall not his deeds an inspiration be
To us left in life’s struggle? May not we
Do aught to emulate him whom we mourn?
We are a people now, no more forlorn
And hopeless. We must gather courage then,
Rememb’ring that he stood man among men.
So let us give, now he has journeyed hence,
To our great chieftain’s memory, reverence!