Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Friday, February 18, 2005

Black History Month - Frederick Douglas' Visit to Hillsdale College

Historic Visit

By Steven Hepker
Jackson Citizen Patriot
Staff Writer

HILLSDALE -- The Civil War was raging, and a disproportionate number of Hillsdale College students were fighting in it, when Frederick Douglass arrived on campus Jan. 21, 1863.

Douglass, a former slave, was every bit the orator and thinker as President Lincoln was, and one of the most commanding and controversial figures of that era.

His abolitionist speeches across the North were startling. He proposed ideas that could get even white men killed, never teetering on the fence but always hammering the message that all men deserve liberty.

"It was amazing how powerfully he could speak, and yet there was never a riot where he spoke," said Arlan Gilbert, historian for Hillsdale College.

Gilbert thinks Douglass deserves another look as Americans observe Black History Month. Douglass paved the way for the modern civil-rights movement.

The visit by a man of his stature was business as usual at the tiny liberal arts college. Founded in 1844, it was the first in the nation to admit blacks and women.

Hillsdale was a regular stop for leading abolitionists, and they found a receptive audience. No nonmilitary college sent more soldiers to fight for the Union, Gilbert said.

Douglas was 55 years old and well known when he embarked on a speaking tour from Boston to Chicago. Lincoln had just issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which led to the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery nationwide.

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