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Frederick Douglass Stands His Ground,
Discouraging the “Exodus” Movement (SOLD)
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“I have no fear of any permanent damage from the several attacks made upon me … on account of my views of the impolicy of Exodus as a scheme …”

Douglass assures his son that he has weighed and responded to the public attacks made on him, based on his opposition to the idea that African-Americans should organize a mass exodus from the South.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Autograph Letter Signed to Charles Douglass. Washington, May 26, 1879. 1 p.

Inventory #21699       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Complete Transcript

                        Washington, D.C. May 26, 1879

My dear Charles:

            I thank you for your manly words. I have no fear of any permanent damage from the several attacks made upon me by Mr Tandy, Greener and others on account of my views of the impolicy of Exodus as a scheme. My last utterance this subjects is a series of Resolutions Submitted by me in Douglass Hall as the basis of a discussion on the subject with R.T. Greener. I will send you these resolutions in a day or so. You will see by them my exact position and some of my reasons for the same. All well, I shall be glad to learn of any good luck that may come to you. Your father.

                                                            Fredk. Douglass

Historical Background

Douglass encountered a challenge to his position as the preeminent spokesman of the African-American community in 1879. In response to violence and economic exploitation in the South, and to a series of Supreme Court cases which legitimized the withdrawal of the federal government from enforcement of the 14th and 15th amendments, six thousand African-Americans migrated to Kansas. In fact, from 1865 to 1880, roughly forty thousand southern freedmen made the decision to uproot their families and to seek new livelihoods and communities in the Midwest. African-American leaders disagreed over whether to continue to fight for civil rights, integration, and economic advancement in the South, or to form race-based organizations to collect funds to migrate – to Kansas or, as others suggested, to the Caribbean or West Africa. 

On September 13, 1879, the New York Times summarized the public controversy between Douglass and R.T. Greener, President of the Law School of Howard University, and reported on a convention held at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to debate the issue. Greener felt there was no future for Negroes in the South because “he has been left landless and naked to his enemies.” After fourteen years of Reconstruction, and the end of the federal military occupation of the South, there was no “harmony of races” and no “absence of violence.” According to the report, Greener “showed the absurdity of telling the blacks to ‘stick’ and to ‘fight it out’ when they had no homes nor anything to fight it out with. Now was the best time to emigrate, he said, land was cheap and was being rapidly taken up.”

Douglass disagreed. Individuals could do whatever they wished, but the public should not actively encourage mass migration. “The negro question is not so desperate as the advocates of the exodus would have the public believe … there is still hope that the negro will ultimately have his rights as a man and be fully protected in the South … Not only is the South the best locality for the Negro on the ground of his political powers and possibilities, but it is best for him as a field of labor. He is there, as he is nowhere else, an absolute necessity.” Douglass saw the tremendous political efforts of freedmen in the South during Reconstruction and trusted that the Republican Party – the party of Lincoln and of emancipation – was the best guarantor of African-Americans’ safety and advancement. He did not predict the vigorous racist movement which arose in the South in the late nineteenth century, which included waves of lynchings and the institution of Jim Crow and disfranchisement laws at the state level.

Frederick Douglass (1817[?]-1895) was an orator, journalist, abolitionist, and distinguished African-American leader. Born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, he assumed the name Douglass after his escape from slavery in 1838. In 1841, Douglass successfully addressed a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention and was employed as its agent. He wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845 to document his experiences and sufferings, and to silence those who contended that a man of his abilities could not have been a slave. Douglass soon became a noted anti-slavery orator and supporter of women’s rights, lecturing in both the United States and England. He attended the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights and signed its Declaration of Sentiments. Douglass edited his own newspaper, The North Star, for several years. During the Civil War, he was instrumental in pushing anti-slavery measures, in advocating for African-American combat units, and in raising troops.  He fought for passage of the Thirteenth (Abolition), Fourteenth (Equal Protection) and Fifteenth (Voting Rights) Amendments, through testimony to Congress, reports to the President and regular appearances on the lecture circuit. Douglass was the first African-American to serve in important federal posts, including the positions of assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, Marshal of the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for Washington D.C., and Minister to Haiti.


Hine, Darlene Clark, et al. The African-American Odyssey. 2000.

“Reasons for and Against the Negro Exodus: Frederick Douglass Gives His Views in

Opposition – A Reply by Prof. Greener…” New York Times, Sept. 13, 1879.