A Good Work for Our Race To-Day

February 2, 2010

“A Good Work for Our Race To-Day”:
Frederick Douglass’s Freedmen’s Monument Speech, April 14, 1876

Frederick DouglassFor citizens of post-civil-rights-era America–an America more racially equitable than ever before, yet still sorely divided by race–the relation between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass holds enduring interest. For many, that relation stands as symbolically representative of relations between black and white Americans in all their complications, difficulties, progress, and promise. This understanding of its larger significance was suggested by Douglass himself, whose reflections on it remain unsurpassed in their depth and subtlety. Those reflections are concentrated with distinctive force and artistry in his speech at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument to Lincoln, delivered on the eleventh anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.

Freedmen's MonumentThe speech that Frederick Douglass delivered that day, however, has long been a source of puzzlement. Douglass’s Freedmen’s Monument speech is a eulogy of Lincoln that does less and more than eulogize; it harshly criticizes, then warmly praises the martyred emancipator; it seems to pass lightly over deteriorating conditions in race relations near the end of the Reconstruction period; it celebrates a monument whose design Douglass disapproved; and yet, in Douglass’s concluding assessment, it articulates and furthers a substantial good work in the cause of racial progress.

This last point holds the key to understanding this complex speech. The “good work for our race to-day” to which Douglass refers in concluding consists foremost in the monument’s representation of the humanizing sentiments of gratitude and, by implication, of justice. Against a persisting imputation of soullessness–“that the colored man … has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors”–this public honoring of a debt and duty to a great benefactor demonstrates a capacity for gratitude and justice alike and thus supplies a profound, memorably vivid confirmation of African Americans’ claim to full and equal citizenship. Correspondingly, Douglass’s seemingly diminishing reference to Lincoln as “pre-eminently the white man’s president,” along with his references to Lincoln as a “son of toil” and “an American of the Americans,” was designed to encourage his white fellow citizens to identify with Lincoln–perhaps partially at first, then ever more fully and deeply–as one of their own. By fostering this sympathetic identification, Douglass sought to open Americans’ minds and hearts to emulate the interracial friendship of two of their greatest public men and thus to bring forth in its perfected maturity the nation to which Lincoln had given rebirth.

Peter C. Myers, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Read the Document

Frederick Douglass –¬†Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln
April 14, 1876
Delivered at the Unveiling of The Freedmen’s Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.

Interactive Websites on the Drafting and Ratification of the Constitution

Check out our websites exploring the process by which the U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and made the foundation of American law. These sites allow you to research the history of the Constitutional Convention and subsequent ratification from a range of angles–the themes of the debate over the Constitution, the drama that unfolded at the Convention as its terms were discussed and negotiated, as well as the dramatic debate that occurred as ratification by the states was awaited, the notes, essays, and letters written by participants, the biographies of key figures, even the specific sites where aspects of the document were hammered out.

Visit the Constitution site.
Visit the Ratification site.

During Black History Month…

Explore an EDSITEment Lesson Plan on “Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement”

These two lesson plans present the views of several important black leaders who shaped the debate over how African-Americans might best achieve freedom and equality in a nation that had long denied them the full protection of their rights as American citizens. The first lesson–“Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nonviolent Resistance: To Obey or not to Obey?”–presents a debate between two Baptist ministers (King and Joseph H. Jackson), both loyal to the United States but proposing alternative methods to promoting civil rights. The second lesson–“Black Separatism or the Beloved Community? Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.”–presents a debate between two black preachers from two different religions and with opposed understandings of America (King and Malcolm X). These lesson plans place the leadership of King in the context of opposing voices, some of whom argued for a more cautious, conciliatory approach, others for a more radical, separatist one. They will help students better understand the principles underlying the work of the man most credited with forcing change on this issue, while engaging them in a discussion of his goals and methods.

Professor Lucas Morel of Washington and Lee University co-authored these lesson plans with high school teacher Constance Murray. The lessons guide students in reading primary documents of the Civil Rights Era and responding to document-based questions. They include links to these documents, to historical photos, and to related sites of interest. They also incorporate creative activities, including a student debate and an exercise in journalistic reporting.

Partner with the Ashbrook Center on a Teaching American History Grant

Each year, the Ashbrook Center works closely with a few school districts and local education agencies to develop customized Teaching American History Grant partnerships. These grants provide federal funds to support professional development projects that aim to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of traditional American history.

The Ashbrook Center can provide assistance to local education agencies in writing their Teaching American History Grant applications and in planning and identifying educational opportunities for teachers served by the grant. Grant funds can be used to facilitate high-quality in-service or pre-service professional development activities to improve American history content knowledge of teachers, collaboration between teachers and history experts, and mentoring and coaching of teachers. They may be designed to combine study at Ashbrook’s intensive week-long summer institutes with training and enrichment programs, offered by other grant partners, through one- or two-day workshops held during the school year.

This year’s deadline for submission of grant proposals is Monday, March 22nd. For more information about partnering with Ashbrook, contact Christian Pascarella at, or call the Ashbrook Center at 419-289-5411.

Presidential Academy for American History and Civics

The application for the 2010 Presidential Academy is now open. It is a program unlike any other that will lead secondary school teachers in a careful study of the pivotal turning points in American history memorialized by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the “I Have a Dream” speech. Participating teachers will spend five days in Philadelphia, six days in Gettysburg, and five days in Washington, DC, studying the American Revolution and Founding, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement, respectively. Participants may choose to earn four hours of Master’s degree credit from Ashland University. This credit can be applied to the Master of American History and Government degree program offered by Ashland University or may be transferred to another institution.

Sixty teachers will be accepted–one from each state, one each from the District of Columbia and a US territory, and eight at-large candidates. The Presidential Academy will be available at no cost to participants, and each will receive a $1,500 stipend to cover the cost of time and travel. The program takes place between Sunday, July 11 and Thursday, July 29, 2010. The deadline for applications is March 15. Please don’t hesitate to apply and spread the word. The application is available on-line at

Congressional Academy for American History and Civics

The Presidential Academy’s sister program, the Congressional Academy for American History and Civics, will lead current high school juniors in a careful study of the pivotal turning points in American history memorialized by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the “I Have a Dream” speech. Participating students will spend two weeks in Washington, DC, with day trips to Philadelphia and Gettysburg, studying the American Revolution and Founding, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. All hotel, meal and tour expenses are paid by the Academy and each student will receive a $500 travel stipend. Participants will receive 3 hours of college credit from Ashland University. This credit can be used toward a degree offered by Ashland University or may be transferred to another institution.

Two students from each state and from the District of Columbia, and ten students from the nation at large, will be selected to participate. The program takes place from Sunday, June 27, 2010 to Friday, July 9, 2010. Applications are due April 1; please don’t hesitate to spread the word. The application is available on-line at

Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s Master of American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as few as three summers of intensive coursework. You may also attend specific courses for continuing education graduate credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government, with no courses limited to teaching methodology. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.

A Sample Core Course in the MAHG Program: “The American Founding”

This course is an intensive study of the constitutional convention, the struggle over ratification of the Constitution, and the creation of the Bill of Rights. Through lecture and discussion, the class will study fundamental principles animating the American Founding, examine the main structures
and procedures of the new American government devised in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, explore the deliberations in the Constitutional Convention and the ratification debates of 1787 -1788, and profile some of the most important Framers. Readings include selections from the Federalist Papers and the Antifederalist literature, from Madison’s Notes of the Debates on the Constitutional Convention, letters written by and to convention delegates, and other primary documents. Students in the week-long course are provided with a syllabus several months in advance, so that they may complete as much as possible of the required reading before the seminar begins.

The course is team-taught twice during the summer. The Session One course is taught by Christopher Burkett, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashland University, and Gordon Lloyd, Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. Professor Lloyd has co-edited two collections of documents related to the Constitutional debates, The Essential Antifederalist and The Essential Bill of Rights, both of which are used in this course. He also designed the interactive websites on the drafting and ratification of the Constitution that are a feature of These provide a comprehensive resource for students of the Founding, one that secondary school teachers may easily exploit in their classrooms.

The Session Four course is taught by Mickey Craig, Professor of Political Science at Hillsdale College, and Melanie Marlowe, Instructor of Political Science at Miami University of Ohio. Marlowe, whose research interests include the concurrent powers of the presidency and Congress, is co-editing a collection of articles on “the Obama Presidency in the constitutional order” (forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield).

Constitution Booklets Available

A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $1.00 each. A 10% discount is available for purchases of 25 or more.

To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit our website.

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