Recreates Era Of
Civil War, Start
Of Civil Rights
BY O.J. EARLY
The life story of Frederick Douglass is familiar to many. His work in the 1800s as an effective writer, powerful orator and fiery abolitionist is cemented in American history.
For an audience that filled St. James Episcopal Church on Thursday evening, the accomplishments of perhaps the most influential African-American man of the 19th century came to life.
Douglass, portrayed by Michael E. Crutcher Sr., was joined by Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by Lincoln presenter and Greeneville resident Chris Small, as the two recounted in stirring fashion some of the major highlights of Douglass's eventful life.
The historical program was presented by the Andrew Johnson Heritage Association in connection with Black History Month. Andrew Johnson Bank sponsored the event.
'MANY YEARS BEFORE ME ...'
"Many, many years before me, my people were kidnapped in Africa. They were thrown in chains and stripped of all dignity," said Douglass, shortly after walking into the dimly-lit church, dressed in dark clothes and carrying a suitcase.
"They were brought to this land and enslaved. They were forced to sweat, bleed, and die for this country."
After a warm introduction to the audience from President Lincoln -- who was a real-life friend of Douglass -- Douglass added:
"People ask me all the time, 'What was the worst thing that ever happened to you as a slave?' And I always tell them the same thing: When I was baby, a tiny infant, I was snatched out of the arms of my mother, and my mother was sold."
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in either 1817 or 1818, and never knew his actual birth date, a common occurrence for slaves. He chose to celebrate his birthday on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.
After more than 20 years in bondage, he escaped to the North -- an event that helped spark his march to becoming one of the most influential black men in history.
CIVIL RIGHTS ICON
Called by some "the grandfather of the civil rights movement," Douglass began speaking and writing about the deep injustice of enslaving other humans.
Later in life, he worked for gender equality, making the case that women should be able to vote.
During his travels, he earned the nickname "Lion of Washington."
The two performers recounted for the audience a visit that Douglass made to the White House to discuss the Civil War, as well as the rights of African-Americans in the nation.
"I knew there would be some sort of physical and moral struggle," he said. "When the South left the halls of diplomacy to take to the field of battle, little did they know they would be opening their throat to the knife of liberty."
Throughout the presentation, he spoke of his love for his grandmother, as well as his long-lost mother, "whose face I never saw in the sunlight."
Douglass downplayed, in some respects, his own key role in the freeing of slaves. He explained that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses in the Old Testament was the same God in charge in his day.
"It was He who led my people out of bondage," Douglass added near the close of his talk.
ABOUT THE PERFORMER
Described as a "devout scholar" of Douglass by the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Crutcher is retired from the U.S. Army and is a former assistant professor at the University of Kentucky's Lexington Community College.
He performed similar portrayals of Douglass at Hal Henard Elementary School and Chuckey-Doak Middle School this week.
After the performance, refreshments from the 1860s period were served at a candlelit reception at the Dickson-Williams Mansion, a short distance up West Church Street from St. James Church.
The imposing brick residence was built in the early 1820s and continued to be a showplace home from then until after the Civil War.
Famed Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan spent his last night as a guest in the house, which at the time was the home of friends, Dr. Alexander Williams and his wife, Catherine Dickson Williams..