The Truth About Frederick Douglass – With Rev. Dean Nelson: What is the TRUE story of Frederick Douglass? Why did he write THREE different autobiographies? Did he hate America? Is America systemically racist? Did you know Douglass had a divine encounter with God? How was Douglass able to have hope and encourage others to keep looking forward and not looking back? Tune in to hear Rev. Dean Nelson talk about the real Frederick Douglass and why his story matters today!
Air Date: 07/28/2021
Guest: Rev. Dean Nelson
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: Â As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Faith and the Culture
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live. Thanks for joining us today. We’re looking at everything from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective. And when I say everything, I mean the hot topics of the day, I mean, whatever is going on in the culture, we should look at what the Bible says about it, what can history tell us about it, and then what does the constitution say about it. And that’s what we do here at WallBuilders Live.
We’re here with David Barton, America’s premier historian and our founder here at WallBuilders. Tim Barton’s a national speaker and pastor and president of WallBuilders. And my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas legislator and America’s Constitution coach. Later in the program, Dean Nelson will be with us. We’re going to be talking about Frederick Douglass and two different July 4th speeches that he gave.
David and Tim, some of the black history of America has just been lost. And I mean, even Frederick Douglass himself, we saw his statue get torn down last year with the crazy BLM riots when he was first of all, black and secondly, an abolitionist, and one of the greatest heroes in American history.
The Marxist Agenda
Yeah, you know, it’s one of the outcomes we saw from some of these riots with statues being torn down is that quickly we realized that people that are tearing down statues basically just said, if it’s something historic, we’re going to tear it down, regardless of who it was. And so quickly, you realize that there was a lot of Marxism in the movement, which now we look back and see absolutely, right, the BLM founders are self-identified, self-professing Marxist. That’s who they are. That’s what they believe.
And this was part of the ideology that came out in Marxism, is much more about the destruction of the institution than it is any kind of truth based oriented mission or objective. And again, we saw that with statues because they began tearing down many abolitionists. But Frederick Douglass, there’s no doubt that not only was this man clearly an abolitionist,
It clearly was a black man in the statue. But it didn’t matter because the goal was the destruction of history, more specifically, the destruction of America. And that’s what a lot of these movements are about.
And part of how they’re bringing about the destruction of America is they’re rewriting the actual story of history in Frederick Douglass is a really good example. Because Rick, as you mentioned, in a little bit we’re going to talk about the fact he had different speeches. He also had different stories he wrote about himself, and he wrote them at different periods in his life.
And it’s important to recognize that Frederick Douglass being born in the early 1800s was born into slavery, and he had many experiences in slavery. And then he got his freedom, and he was fighting for freedom. But he had been enslaved when the US Constitution was around.
And so his impression initially was, well, the Constitution is bad because it allows slavery and look at all the bad things that happened under this Constitution. And so he was actually against the Constitution, thinking it was pro-slavery.
And then finally, he was challenged by somebody. Have you ever read the Constitution? And he goes and reads it. And then when you read what he writes about the Constitution afterwards, he says, there’s not a single pro-slavery statement in that entire document. And then at the end of the Civil War, he praises America and the values of America in the Constitution. The point is you see a progression, a growth, and a change in his life based on what he had lived and experienced, and what he had learned up to that point.
And in a lot of the efforts people are making today to tear down America, to say America is bad, to destroy America, they will point to people like Frederick Douglass that generally is acknowledged to be an American hero. But they will only point to specific things he said at specific moments that many of those were before the Civil War, before he had read the Constitution, before he had seen the outcome after the Civil War, when he at that point wasn’t praising America.
Instead he was identifying there’re some major problems with America. And they will take specific quotes out of some of those speeches or writings, and they will say, see, even Frederick Douglass thought we were bad.
It’s also worth pointing out that even some of those quotes, they misrepresent in the context of that letter or statement, because if you read the full context, it’s sometimes different than what they say. But the point is, their goal is to fundamentally attack and tear down America. And if they can use famous Americans to do that, that is the objective. And that’s what we’re seeing happen.
And one of the things that’s so critical about this right now is we’re in the middle of all these debates over critical race theory over the 1619 project, over institutional racism, over systemic racism, all the things that go with this. And Frederick Douglass has been invoked as one of these guys to prove that America is systemically racist. And so specifically, they quote is 1852, 4th of July speech.
And the title of that speech he gave was, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” And he says, this is not a good time, this is not a happy time. These are the guys who had slavery and who did all the bad things. And so that’s the way it’s presented.
And what Tim just said, it’s really important to ask the question, when did this occur and what else did you say? And one of the things that Tim particularly teaches the young people at the Summer Institute that we do two weeks at a time with 18-year-old to 25-year-old college of students multiple times a summer, he says, just because you see it quote, doesn’t mean that’s what they believed on that all the way through. You have to check and see what are the things did they say about that. You have to put it all in context.
One of the Most Interesting Figures
And so I think Frederick Douglass is one of the most interesting guys out there from this standpoint. I have read a lot of different autobiographies written by individuals. I mean, I have, just a lot of autobiographies.
I’ve never met or read about an individual who wrote three different autobiographies about himself. Frederick Douglass did that. He wrote an autobiography about himself when he was much younger before he knew everything about the Constitution. And then after he learned a whole lot, he came back and wrote another autobiography because his views had so changed over that time of study.
He had been a slave for all those years. He had no study, no background, nothing but what he was told. So that’s his first one.
Then you come to the second one, and he’s really grown a lot. And then he does a third one at the end of his life when he has changed so differently. So when you see that 1852 speech, and he says the 4th of July is nothing that the black men can celebrate, it can’t celebrate the guys there, well, that’s the early one.
Go to the 4th of July speech he gave on 1875, after he saw the end of slavery, after he saw 620,000 white folks get killed in a war that ended slavery, after he saw 23 civil rights laws to be passed by Congress, after he worked with four different US presidents who worked with him, and he was an advisor to: he’s got a whole different view of America. So his 1875 4th of July speech is a really positive patriotic speech. But people like to quote that 1852 without seeing that.
But I think it’s significant that when you say three autobiographies by the same guy, it’s because he’s changed that much over time. He’s grown, he’s learned more. And that’s such an important perspective.
Reverend Dean Nelson
So Dean Nelson, great friend, great ally. He’s the president of the board there at the Frederick Douglass Foundation. And he really does understand Frederick Douglass. And so as we go through this critical race theory stuff, and people are quoting Frederick Douglass to show how bad America is, Dean’s really got the perspective on this.
So we really asked him, would you kind of compare the 1852 to the 1875, and kind of tell us what happened with Frederick Douglass there and how he grew? Because this is what people need to know to be able to inoculate themselves against a critical race theory kind of criticism that keeps coming against America.
Reverend Dean Nelson, you’ve seen him on 700Clubs, CBN, even MSNBC, he’s on all kinds of radio programs out there and just a great voice of truth in bringing a lot of this history to life, and chairman of the board of the Douglas Leadership Institute. He’s going to be with us when we come back from the break. Stay with us. You’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
Hey, guys, we want to let you know about a new resource we have at WallBuilders called The American Story. For so many years, people have asked us to do a history book to help tell more of the story that’s just not known or not told today.
And we would say very providentially in the midst of all of the new attacks coming out against America, whether it be from things like the 1619 project that say America is evil, and everything in America was built off slavery, which is certainly not true or things, like even the Black Lives Matter movement, the organization itself, not out the statement Black Lives Matter, but the organization that says we’re against everything that America was built on, and this is part of the Marxist ideology. There’s so many things attacking America.
Well, is America worth defending? What is the true story of America? We actually have written and told that story starting with Christopher Columbus, going roughly through Abraham Lincoln, we tell the story of America not as the story of a perfect nation of a perfect people. But the story of how God used these imperfect people and did great things through this nation. It’s a story you want to check out wallbuilders.com, The American Story.
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. Excited to have Dean Nelson with us, he’s executive director over Human Coalition Action, a pastor and a minister and just a great man of God. Appreciate you, brother, thanks for coming on today.
Hey, man, thank you so much. Always glad to be with you and WallBuilders family.
Supurb, supurb article over the July 4th weekend about Frederick Douglass other 4th of July speech, of course, you poured out on the article even the one that a lot of folks tried to make it sound like he was anti-American leave out that last part of the speech from before the Civil War. But you bring up one that he did well after the Civil War.
A Divine Encounter
So let’s talk Frederick Douglass for a little bit. In fact, let’s just go back to the beginning. Give us a quick synopsis of who Frederick Douglass was and the impact he had on the debate regarding slavery.
Without a doubt, Rick, well, thank you and WallBuilders for always bringing what I figure is the real history of America. And Frederick Douglass is one of those born in 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland in slavery, with ultimately through the help of the woman that would become his wife would escape from slavery around the age of 19 or 20. Frederick Douglass most people do know was a great abolitionist, but many don’t know that he was a licensed minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
A lot of folks don’t know that at the age of around 13 had a divine encounter with God that left him to say that he was without question a poor sinner without any means to save himself. But because of that divine encounter with God, it would lay the foundation for his life and the trajectory for his ministry, quite honestly, not only to see abolition of slavery, but also to see equal rights for black Americans and also for women suffrage.
So an incredible legacy, had the ear of President, had probably one of the most respected people in American history. There’s always a fight over someone’s legacy, right, even here, 150 years later, and what they said or did and what they really believed. You do a great job of correctly framing his perspective and kind of pushing back on some of the new narratives, kind of the rewriting of that history. What do you think the kind of anti-American sentiment today what if they want to use Frederick Douglass for and how have they kind of twisted some of the things that he said and did?
Not a Christian?
Yeah, man, it’s a great question. One of my reasons for getting involved even though I was introduced to Frederick Douglass as a young kid, but one of the reasons that I got more involved through the Frederick Douglass Foundation and the Douglass Leadership Institute that we launched, was because I read an article, I don’t know about, seven years ago that basically stated that Frederick Douglass was not a Christian. And I was like, man, we’ve got to push back against this.
I’m proud that there are many people who want to highlight the legacy of Frederick Douglass and look at him as a great statesman, whether they’re libertarian, whether they’re center left, center right. But I think that it doesn’t do any of us any good to try to own that narrative by eliminating true parts of Frederick Douglass story.
And so that’s one of the reasons that we wrote this article that you’re referencing, as well as trying to, at least from our perspective, to highlight the Christian history the person of faith that he was in fighting for that because we see this erosion of anything that is of faith and values within our culture today.
And so our push is for African Americans particularly to know the real story about Frederick Douglass, which is a story of overcoming, particularly through his faith in God.
Is critical, right? I mean, because without the faith element, would guys like Frederick Douglass have done the great things that they did? I remember even when they erected the MLK monument in DC having Alveta King on his knees, saying, you know, I got to keep reminding everybody Uncle Martin was Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. because they don’t even refer to that anymore. So the faith element of so many of our heroes is just ignored today. But I mean, I don’t think they would have done the things they did without the faith part.
More than One Speech
There’s no question about it. And even with secular scholars like David Blight, who has written this great story, the biography on Frederick Douglass, it has gotten a lot of attention, I give kudos to someone like him who titled it, “Prophet of Freedom”
So he did not. And it’s almost impossible to honestly look at the history, look at the letters from Frederick Douglass, look at the speeches that he gave. He used that prophetic mantle, those words from the Old Testament prophets really to call America to live up to its founding principles.
He didn’t, as some would argue, thought of America as separate are not his own. In that early speech in 1852, he did challenge that during the period of slavery. But later, Frederick Douglass would call America, great, he would call the founders of our country, great, not perfect, but he would call them great because of the principles that they stood on.
And in fact, in that 1875 speech, Douglass challenged both black and white leaders of that day; to black people, he said, we can’t beg for what we ought to do for ourselves, and to white leaders, he challenged them not just to say that slavery was ended, but how to make black Americans equal in footing and standing in American culture.
Man, I think that’s it you can’t have that. First of all, I love what you just said about they weren’t perfect. And he certainly addressed that as well. In fact, that’s part of the miracle, right, that God used imperfect men and women throughout our history to do great things. And the faith element was a huge part of that. They’ve done the same thing with G.W. with George Washington, they basically erased the faith element.
And I remember going down to where he crossed the Delaware and that Christmas raid, the whole thing in the storm. And I think, how did he have the courage to do that? People love to talk about him having the courage to do that.
His Source of Hope
But really, you got to go back to when he was praying in Valley Forge, go back to the Continental Congress, where they prayed for three hours, those times on his knees. If you leave out the faith element, there’s no explanation for the big bold moves that men like Frederick Douglass and George Washington made.
And I can only imagine, I mean for Douglas, the things he saw in his lifetime and the massive shift in America’s freedom being extended to all Americans. I mean, he saw massive changes, and he was a big part of bringing that about. So he had to have had a more optimistic view of the future of America than most people because he saw how much it changed even during his lifetime. What do you think he was trying to say even in that 1875 speech about looking forward and not looking back?
Yeah, it’s a great, great point. And I think Frederick Douglass optimism, I think, again, comes from this idea that was rooted in his Christian faith. I mean, if you think about how horrible slavery was, if you think about Douglass being whipped by a slave master, who was a professing Christian, one might argue how could he accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior when one who was justifying that?
But not only did Douglass say yes to Christ out of a divine encounter, but he would go further later in his life to forgive the man that had owned him, because he was truly free. And some of the critics will say, well, Douglas met with people of all different faiths, he was in a community of people who were atheist. But to me that speaks again, to who Douglass was.
He would challenge those who were in the abolitionist movement, even those who were not of the Christian faith. But he never left that. He continued to preach in churches and to call America that stand to own up to the sins of the past, but to look forward, not just for his own people, but for other people to include Chinese Americans.
There were some fascinating stories of Douglas advocating early on for Chinese Americans who had come to California that were being discriminated against, he would advocate for women. And so I think that he’s such a great icon within American history to study because it was somebody who was subjected to the worst conditions, who overcame it, but still challenged all people to live up to a high moral standard.
A Powerful Lesson
It’s such a powerful life lesson too. You say in the article, if I could just quote it real quick, “Douglas never glosses over the evils of forced bondage, which he of course, experienced firsthand during the first two decades of his life, but slavery did not define him. He said, we’re no longer slaves, but free men, no longer subjects, but citizens. We have a voice and a vote with all other citizens, a new condition has brought new duties”.
So powerful. I mean, everyone can learn from that, that whatever’s happened to you in your life in the past does not define you and that you have with this new freedom, duty, you have responsibility that comes along with it. How do you speak to that about just all citizens today and our responsibility, certainly as Christians, to be biblical citizens and to actually take biblical instruction and do well with this freedom that we have, and with the duty that comes with it?
Well, I’ll personalize it, Rick, because the example of Frederick Douglass has been an encouragement to me. The work that we do at Human Coalition is to help rescue innocent children from abortion. And we do that particularly with strategic alliances with African American denominations, like the Church of God in Christ. We do that in major cities where there are high rates of abortion. And, 75% of the women that we connect with say that they would choose to parent if their circumstances were different.
And so the message of Douglas of righteousness, justice, liberty, and virtue, to me, is extended in our cultural challenges. And I believe one of the greatest injustices that we see today is what happens to preborn children. And so that message from him to me and to this generation.
I think, is encouraging a new generation of abolitionists, if you were. And that’s where my heart is, and I’m excited to be able to do that work through human coalition.
A New Generation of Abolitionists
I love it. I love it. You know, we work with a lot of young people that are very, very passionate about this issue of life. And it just seems like victory after victory after victory right now just in the last few years in state after state on the life issue. And I think we’re moving towards finally actually having an abolition of abortion.
I think we’re going to potentially see it in, not only our lifetime, but maybe in the next 10 years. It’s phenomenal how much that has changed in just a few years. Very, very exciting to see.
Last thing I want to get you to comment on is Douglass had this great view of basically ownership in the American Dream, is the only way I noted to describe it, and the debate over the last year has been that black Americans don’t have ownership in the American Dream, shouldn’t love the flag or love America or any of those things. And he really disagreed with that. I mean, he really brought to light, a lot of the great black patriots from the Revolutionary War all the way through to say, hey, we’ve been there from the beginning.
And that’s something most people today don’t recognize. I know anytime I tell a story of Crispus Attucks or James Armistead, or any of those guys the room is like jaw on the ground, they’ve never heard those stories. I mean, that’s literally robbing, stealing the heritage of black Americans and keeping them from knowing they have ownership in this nation.
We Need the Whole Story
Well, man, I’m so grateful for you, for David, and for WallBuilders because you’re fighting to help elevate many of the stories, the truths that have been missed. Most people don’t know that, you know, almost, I think a tenth of those who fought in the American Revolution were black men, many of them who were free black men. Even though all black men didn’t receive the same promise, as they did at the beginning of our country, they were still those that fought during that time period.
Frederick Douglass used very strategically the issue of getting black men, former slaves to be able to fight in the Union, because he knew that America would not be able to deny them the right to vote if they also fought for their own liberation. And I believe that those are some of the important stories that need to be highlighted. They need to be brought up because there’s such a move, as you know, within our culture to deemphasize all of those things.
And I think about even the example just to take one step away in Virginia, where I grew up, you had the story of Robert Carter who was a contemporary of Washington and Jefferson. Nobody told me in Virginia history about this man who emancipated 500 slaves, which is the largest release of slaves prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. And he did it because of a divine encounter with God. So those are the important stories of history that need to be told correctly.
We, again, are not saying that we want to minimize the issues of slavery. But quite honestly, we also need to tell the whole story of particularly Christians who rose above that who had a different standard.
Amen. Reverend Nelson, so good. Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for your work.
Want to send people to your website, humancoalition.org is the website, humancoalition.org. You can be a part of saving lives, folks, if you go to that website today. And then we’re also going to have a link to the article on Daily Signal, and we’ll put that at wallbuilderslive.com.
It’s a fantastic article on Frederick Douglass’ other 4th of July speech. So such a privilege to have you, let’s do it again soon.
An American Hero
Amen, thank you so much, brother. Appreciate it.
Thanks, again to Dean Nelson, for joining us, we have a link to the Douglass Leadership Institute that Reverend Nelson is the chairman of, they do a lot of great work over there. And we’re back with David and Tim Barton. Guys, you guys have had a passion for this history and telling these stories from the beginning of WallBuilders even existing. But here’s a guy that really the entire nation should celebrate.
I mean, this is somebody whether you’re black, red, white, yellow, black or brown, left, right, whichever angle you come from, Frederick Douglass is a guy that we should be saying, hey, this is an American hero.
Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. And I love as Dean pointed out, that there are a lot of hard moments in Frederick Douglass’ life where he did experience some very rough and tough moments. And we should be honest about the telling of history where Dean pointed out, one of the things we’ve talked about for a long time is we need the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And as Dean pointed out, that if you go through Douglass, study his whole life, and it gives you context for who he is. And you do see so many amazing moments in his life that this is not a black hero, this is an American hero.
Now, obviously, I’m happy for him to be a black hero. But the point is that so often in black history month when for I know a lot of people growing up in school or in college, when you have black history month as a white person, sometimes you think well, those are the black heroes. And the reality is, the more I study American history, the more I realized that these are not merely black heroes, these, in fact, are American heroes. And Douglass should be celebrated.
The Rest of the Story is Vital
One of the problems again, when instead of just studying history and learning the full lesson of history and seeing his life and the incredible ways what God did in him and through him and how God used him even as a minister, as Dean pointed out, that the reason he first got involved in some of the conversation about Frederick Douglass all those years ago where people were saying that Frederick Douglass didn’t even believe in God, that’s crazy. But we see this happen with so many historic figures.
And to give a practical connection, imagine, as Christians, we know a lot about the Apostle Paul, we know he wrote 13 epistles, and we can go through a lot of his life and his journey and his missionary journeys and you go in Acts, you can learn a lot about the Apostle Paul. But imagine if there were Christians, or there were people in general who quoted the Apostle Paul before he was the Apostle Paul, what if it was when he was Saul?
And they took Saul at a time when he was chief among the Pharisees by his own accords, right, well, he wrote later is that he was one of the most religious, he was the most devout, he’s was dedicated and he was the guy who oversaw the stoning of Stephen in the Bible. He’s one of the guys who was leading the crusade to kill Christians.
Imagine if you took a quote from that point in his life, who Saul became the Apostle Paul said that Christianity is one of the worst things that could happen that people who were Christians could not honor God. Like, imagine if you took a quote from that point in his life, and people were like, see, here’s what Paul thought about Christians.
Well, that’s ludicrous if you know the rest of the story. The rest of the story, you see his conversion on the road to Damascus, and he becomes a Christian and he becomes the chief apostle to the Gentiles and all these great things about the Apostle Paul.
The Truth About Frederick Douglass – With Rev. Dean Nelson
This is what we are literally seeing happen with so many historic figures, Frederick Douglass now being one of them, that people are looking to Frederick Douglass, and they’re trying to use a part of his life that was not consistent with who he was his whole life, and they’re using that moment to say, look, he even thought America wasn’t good.
There’s so much more to the story. And one of the things that we encourage and emphasize is we want to make sure we go back and learn the whole story, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And Frederick Douglass is certainly one of the heroes we should learn his full story. He is an incredible American hero.
Well, once again, the Frederick Douglass Institute, you should go check it out Douglass Leadership Institute, it’s dlinstitute.org, dlinstitute.org. Obviously, someone as famous as Frederick Douglass, there’s a lot of different organizations out there, that’s the one with Dean Nelson. Go check it out and be a part of it. Thanks for listening today, folks. You’ve been listening to Wallbuilders Live.