In the old days, the term was the “party of Lincoln.” These days Frederick Douglass – the slave who taught himself to read, escaped the South, and became a respected writer and leader in the abolitionist movement – seems to hold a lot more appeal.
Of course, a lot has changed since the 1860s. Predicting the political opinions of a 21st century Frederick Douglass is sort of like predicting what Charles Dickens would drink at Starbucks. That hasn’t stopped conservative talk radio from recasting Douglass as an anti-immigration, low-tax conservative on guard against creeping Marxism. Sort of like Rick Santorum, but with a beard.
As The Anniston Star reported this week, the Talladega County Republican Party is bringing a self-described Frederick Douglass Republican to town to woo black voters to the GOP. K. Carl Smith, a black Army vet with several tea party rallies under his belt, describes Douglass as a small-government guy who hated “slaveowner entitlements.”
But one expert threw cold water on the notion of Douglass as a right-winger in the modern mold.
“Frederick Douglass was a strong supporter of the Freedmen’s Bureau,” noted DoVeanna Minor, chair of gender and race studies at the University of Alabama.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was a Reconstruction-era agency designed to usher freed slaves into full citizenship by building schools, providing health care, making loans and creating jobs. It also investigated racial incidents. And, yes, it was a federal government project. Sounds like an arch-conservative’s worst nightmare.
Of course, there’s no real reason to take either side’s word for it. The writings of Frederick Douglass are all in the public domain, and can easily be found online. And so are the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Read and decide for yourself.