Frederick Douglass is a literary hero of mine. Not only was he a gifted orator, he was also an amazing writer – and totally self-taught. While a young slave, he learned to read and write by trading food for lessons from schoolboys and studying the words and letters printed on ships being built near the home where he was enslaved.
When Coach Tully, my friend, mentor, and fellow scribe, read part of one of Frederick’s speeches to me over the phone, it was such an amazing piece of writing that I had to share it with you. It is from an 1852 speech at July 4 celebration. As Coach Tully pointed out so well, it is all strong nouns and verbs:
“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. If had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your
national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your
religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
What powerful words – they leap off the page! Bravo, Frederick! Bravo, Coach Tully! Emboldened by these inspiring nouns and verbs, let’s all write on.