There are many good reasons why historians and educators spend most of their time talking about Frederick Douglass before the Civil War. Almost from his birth in February of 1818 on the Mid-Shore to the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Douglass caught the imagination of the entire western world with his powerful story of rising from slavery to become an internationally acclaimed writer, journalist, and abolitionist.
And yet, Douglass lived almost three decades longer after the war was over; just as active, just as relevant, just as impactful but from the riverfront community of Anacostia and the simple elegance of Cedar Hill, his twelve acre estate some six miles from downtown Washington. It was from this unique community that he pursued his advocacy work, writing and the publication of the New National Era, a weekly newspaper covering Reconstruction and other issues on justice.
But Anacostia was also where Douglass actively engaged in community affairs. He was principally responsible for bringing mass transit, via train service, to the mostly African-American community, while also cultivating local DC leaders at his home for improved city services for his adopted home. It was also a place where he felt the most at peace, frequently socializing with his neighbors, some of whom were reported to be old friends from his days in Talbot County during his slave years.
While the Mid-Shore is reminded frequently about Douglass’ life on the Eastern Shore, it is only when one visits Cedar Hill that the visitor can fully understand his life and times. That is why the Spy took a side trip to Anacostia a few weeks ago to explore his remarkable family compound with the help of one of the site’s stewards, National Park Service’s Delphine Gross, and local historian and journalist John Muller, to fully appreciate this American hero’s remarkable journey.
This video is approximately four minutes in length. For those interested in visiting Cedar Hill, and you should, please go here for hours of operation and other events at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site please go here. To obtain a copy of John Muller’s “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.:: The Lion of Anacostia” please go here.