The Founders: It’s Lonely at the Top

That lonely feeling of being chosen and the individual nature of God and spirituality for black people are also on display in Douglass’ reminiscence about the Chesapeake Bay: “I have often, in the deep stillness of a summer’s Sabbath, stood all alone upon the lofty banks of that noble bay… With no audience but the Almighty, I would pour out my soul’s complaint, in my rude way…” (Douglass 82). In addition to sharing Stewart’s lonesome relationship with God, Douglass questions whether or not the Divine does intercede on his behalf, namely when he was sent to Sophia Auld in Baltimore when still a young boy. Both writers wrestle with enlightening their peers while still feeling alone in a Biblical sense. To be chosen by God to have a purpose among your people is not a light task to carry.

              Both Maria Stewart and Fredrick Douglass contend with religion in many different contexts. They both utilize it as a lens to see the world and a way to justify its realities.  Stewart’s gender and delivery were not well received in her hometown of Boston and she leaves the town and the methods but not the cause. She travels to New York, Baltimore, and D.C. setting up schools, teaching, and serving the black community. Unfortunately, her speeches and essays mark the height and end of her short-lived public life. The further south she traveled, the more her actions replaced her fiery speeches and essays. On the other hand, Douglass’ escape from slavery is just the beginning of his long and illustrious public life. As he travels North some of his ideologies cross paths with hers and merge, whether they are aware or not. He plainly answers Stewart’s call to black men by becoming known as one of the forefathers of the Civil Rights’ Movement. He agitates endlessly for the humanization, education, and acceptance of black people into American society. He goes on to promote abolition internationally as a brilliant orator. In the same spirit of Stewart, Douglass realizes that removing the physical bond of slavery will not remove the underlying racism, ignorance, and prejudice that justified it. To this end he writes voluminously and agitates widely for citizenship rights, self-help and racial pride, along with economic development. In the opening quote of this essay, Stewart asks if any of Africa’s sons have souls and ambitious desires; Douglass’ life is a resounding yes. The similarities between these two figures and their messages allows for an intriguing juxtaposition of the role religion played in their perception of the black community and its place in America and religion’s role in the way that they view themselves.

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