Originally published 07/03/2013
Sean Coons is a writer and teacher in Los Angeles. Last week, Frederick Douglass — who escaped slavery at 20 years old and whose words would help bring an end to the institution — was honored with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s and ’70s, far left activists like Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panther Party and Angela Davis of Communist Party USA incorporated Douglass’ call to agitation in their various causes’ platforms. Yet in a fascinating turnaround, the brilliant abolitionist, writer and orator is developing a new – and perhaps, unexpected – political identity: Tea Party hero.The recent rise in interest in Douglass by conservatives stems from their belief that his life epitomizes the self-reliance they champion, and his writings help provide justification for small government. It may be surprising to some that the fiery, black radical abolitionist of the 19th century, who once called Fourth of July celebrations “a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages,” could be inspiring to a Tea Party patriot. Or that social conservatives could find common cause with the man who bitterly attacked America’s Christianity as “a lie.” But that is exactly what is happening.