Niki Tshibaka: Frederick Douglass, America’s Moses

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Frederick Douglass

By NIKI TSHIBAKA

In the early 1800s, a modern-day Moses was born to Antebellum America. Like Moses, he was born into slavery and would find freedom by way of a river; like Moses, this child, delivered on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, would become a deliverer for his people; and, like Moses, his would be a simple message for our nation’s pharaohs: “Let my people go.” 

His name was Frederick Douglass.

By all appearances, Douglass was destined for a life of servitude and suffering. But he resolved that the institution of slavery would not determine his destiny. As a young man, he escaped to freedom by taking a steamboat up the Delaware River to Philadelphia. In time, he rose to heights most African Americans of his generation thought impossible. A self-educated man, he became a prolific writer and published his own antislavery newspaper, The North Star.

He also became an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln and the first African American confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a presidential appointment. Most importantly, Douglass became one of the greatest abolitionist voices in American history, convicting America’s conscience with his blistering rebukes of its hypocrisy in tolerating slavery.

“The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie,” he roared.

Douglass’ advocacy was grounded in propositional truths, imbuing his arguments with an enduring relevance that speaks powerfully to our ongoing national dialogue on race, justice and equality. For example, while he fervently opposed racism, Douglass also decried what he perceived as the benevolent bigotry of White abolitionists. Racism was dehumanizing, an assault on the inherent dignity of Black Americans. The recurrent, overweening generosity of his abolitionist allies and the employment of their power and privilege to artificially uplift Black people, however, also were demeaning and destructive to Black Americans.

Douglass was a principled purist in his pursuit of equality. He believed a sincere commitment to righting the wrongs of slavery required equal treatment, not special treatment, for Black people. Equality, in any meaningful and lasting sense, would be achieved only through justice, not generosity.

Our Declaration of Independence had masterfully established the propositional truth that justice was rooted in the unchanging laws of nature and nature’s God. Conversely, White America’s generosity, and its episodic abdications of privilege, were subject to the ever-fickle vicissitudes of human will. White paternalism would not carve a path to racial equality. Instead, it would calcify existing societal structures of racial inequality, resulting in slavery by another name and further entrenching Black dependence on White America. 

If Black Americans wanted to stand beside White Americans as true equals, it had to be on their own feet and by their own merit; as Douglass put it, without “prop[ping] up the Negro.” Anything less would create only a chimera of equality:

What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. . . . Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. . . . If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, . . . let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! . . . Let him fall if he cannot stand alone! 

Despite his criticisms of America, Douglass labored to reform our nation, not remake it – to incarnate its founding ideals, not uproot them. He advocated for the guarantee of certain inalienable rights, not for the promise of certain inalienable outcomes. He had great faith our nation one day would make the full measure of freedom’s blessings the birthright of every American.

Like Moses, Douglass would not live to see the fulfillment of his vision for our nation. But he would help lead us to the river’s edge of that Promised Land, believing his life and hopes were a prophetic glimpse of what was to come. 

As I write this article, I am particularly inspired by the words Douglass spoke in a lecture to some Black students: “What was possible for me is possible for you.” Today, it is a message of encouragement for Americans of every race, color, and creed. Douglass stands astride history with that stirring reminder for us all:

What was possible for me is possible for you.

There is reason for hope.

Niki Tshibaka is a former federal civil rights attorney and government executive. 

26 COMMENTS

  1. “American Moses?”

    A great man ahead of his time? Sure. American hero/visionary? No problem there.

    “Moses”? Please. Exaggerating for political credibility.

    Maybe you weren’t ready for prime time after all.

  2. Christians back then followed false gospels as Christians do today. If this nation truly was a Christian nation then we has Christian nation couldn’t carry on the evils we have done without quick conviction and quick repentance. Though majority of the foundering leaders of USofA were proclaimed Christians. They did make the first amendment setting the road one can follow whatever one will follow here in America including living deceived. Billy Graham did counter the assertion we are a Christian nation, “he said we aren’t a Christian Nation, we are a secular nation” its because of that first amendment giving people the right to choose who they will follow. Until the present in this 19th and 20th century, most Americans chose to learn about the God of Isreal and some following him like Joshua “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; cast aside the gods your fathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if it is unpleasing in your sight to serve the LORD, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” I think that is what the founding fathers had in mind when they added the first amendment. Its what they learned from their families and churches. Unfortunately demons are deceptive and cunning deceiving many past American Christians they thought evils as slavery was permissible. It was just another false gospel they were following.

    • Really Jen?
      You’d prefer an atheist nation – like Communist China, or perhaps the Soviet Union, or is Nazi Germany more your style – all godless nations with insatiable appetites to slaughter their own people.
      For all the faults Christians have committed and will commit – the world in the past, today, and in the future will be a better place to live.
      Let me guess Jen, you’re pro-abortion…

      • None of the countries you mention were really atheist. Hitler never repudiated his membership in the Catholic church and at least 50% of the SS were practicing/confessing Christians. The oath all Nazi soldiers took started with “I swear by almighty God undying fealty…”. The Soviet Union was run by people like Stalin who was educated in a seminary in Georgia and had held heresy trials, proclaimed miracles such as Lysenko’s biology, etc. The same can be said of Mao’s China. They were all pseudo-religious states drawing on orthodoxy and operating under the same principles of credulity and servility that are the basis of all religious beliefs. Look at North Korea today. It’s probably the most religious country in the world and is nominally atheist, but is far from it.

    • You’re really a good one to talk about false gospels. Time and again you show you know squat about Christianity.

      What you post flies directly in the face of what you claim to believe. At best, you’re a Pharisee. At best. At worst you’re a person determined to undermine the Faith for liberal or self serving ends.

      You really should stop. You’re meeting with God is gonna be tough enough as it is. Time to enact the first rule of being in a hole. Stop digging.

    • For the same reason she didn’t mention that he was a thief. And for the same reason that she didn’t mention that he advocated race war.

      There never was a Moses but if there were he wouldn’t have been like this guy. This article is romanticized mud shark nonsense.

  3. The legacy of Frederick Douglass stands on its own and it doesn’t need to be compared to anyone else’s. Especially when the comparison is based on untruths…like that Douglass, like Moses, found freedom by way of a river. That’s not what the National Park Service says: “This time, Frederick met a young free Black woman named Anna Murray. Anna Murray used her money to buy him a train ticket, risking her own safety to help him seize his freedom. On September 3, 1838, with the ticket in hand, he boarded a northbound train dressed as a sailor. In less than 24 hours, Frederick arrived in New York City. His lifelong search for freedom was well underway.” Maybe the NPS got it wrong…maybe Nikki should fly down to D.C. to get that corrected. And America never had pharaohs…tyrants worshipped as gods. What a ridiculous attempt to equate America with ancient Egypt. Insulting, actually. Douglass was a great and truly accomplished American and it’s disrespectful to his memory to have a carpetbagging foreigner like Nikki try to latch onto his legacy to self promote…but that’s what grifters do…at least Nikki could have gotten the facts right.

  4. I liked the ‘Harriet Tubman” story. She called herself, “Moses” because the name of Moses brought out different images of freedom in their lives as it does in the Bible. That is my favorite story for this generation to think of.

  5. Very well written and true. I’m glad that you chose to write about an American hero that so few people understand and/or know about. That is pretty obvious when I read some of these comments.

  6. Niki Tshibaka is one of the finest men I know, and I don’t judge people by the color of their skin. I judge them for their integrity, honesty, kindness to others and values.
    Mr Tshibaka would receive an A+ in any classroom who’s spoke the truth!

  7. “All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! . . . Let him fall if he cannot stand alone!”
    Haiti, every black nation in Africa and the 13% committing 60% of violent crime.
    Looks like there never was nor will there ever be any ‘standing’.

  8. Moses, like Ramses, was a great Egyptian name. Moses was Hebrew but raised in a royal Egyptian home. Moses wasn’t perfect. He defended the Hebrews in their Egyptian enslavement. He did lead them out of enslavement through forty years in the wilderness. The people complained about him. They didn’t like his wife. But God saw his heart and used him to bring the people with a contract with God to produce the Messiah of God’s purpose out of enslavement, bad religious practices and to the promised land. they sometimes didn’t think Moses was good enough to lead them but he did his job. we thank him for participating in that contract. we should do the same. Do what God asks if US even if the people of Anchorage to think their imagination is spiritually superior to Moses’s God.

    • I believe in evidence. Even Israeli archeologists have said that there’s zero evidence for the existence of Moses or the Exodus story. My position isn’t based on faith, its based on what is provable, testable and evidentiary. Surely you understand the difference between faith and reason, yes?

      • Genealogy proving the Messiah as come exists all the way back to the salvation set Noah. That is what I believe and have seen the genealogy with my own eyes. That was the purpose for preserving it as God commanded so there can be no excuse for non-believers and low level scoffers. it is Jesus’ joy to make every word of his father “yes” or true. Why do scoffers scoff? They are afraid of missing a stray orgasm hopefully leading to bastardy for sacrifice to Baal or whomever is the favorite false diety today. Mere rebellious fallen human nature does not prevail.

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