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Frederick Douglass descendant keynote speaker at John Brown Day

May 14, 2012
CHRIS MORRIS

LAKE PLACID - A relative of abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered the keynote address at this year's John Brown Day celebration.

Kenneth Morris Jr., Douglass's great-great-great-grandson, gave his speech under blue skies Saturday afternoon at the John Brown Farm state historic site. The event coincided with I Love My Park Day, a statewide celebration of parks and historic sites hosted by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

More than 100 people turned out for the celebration.

Article Photos

Photo/Chris Morris
Kenneth Morris Jr., the great-great-great-grandson of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, discusses Douglass’ relationship with John Brown.

Morris is the founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, an organization established in 2007 to raise awareness of modern-day slavery. The organization was founded by Morris and his mother, Nettie Washington Douglass.

"I've had the honor and privilege of traveling around and talking to more than 50,000 students over the last several years," Morris said. "Young people think this history happened so long ago, and that slavery happened so long ago. All of our young people know about the great leaders of the civil rights movement, and they know about Martin Luther King Jr.

"When I speak to kids, I always ask them, 'How many of you know who Frederick Douglass is? How many of you know who Booker T. Washington is?'" he said. "Not a lot of hands go up."

Prior to Morris' speech, two young girls from Rochester - Campbell McDade Clay and Delia McDade Clay - recited historical texts about Douglass and Brown. Morris said listening to young people engage in the history of his ancestors inspired him.

Morris said abolitionists are still needed today. He said his organization's goal is to raise awareness and eradicate slavery, which still exists. Modern-day slavery is different than the institutionalized slavery of the past; Morris' foundation targets black-market servitude and forced labor that affects some 27 million people worldwide. Eighty percent of those impacted by slavery today are women and children.

Morris also spoke about the friendship between Douglass and Brown.

"In 1847, Douglass and Brown met for the first time in Springfield, Massachusetts," he said. "Twelve years later, and about three weeks before the raid on Harper's Ferry, in 1859, Brown wrote to Douglass informing him that a beginning in his work would soon be made, and that before going forward he wanted to meet at an old stone quarry in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania."

Morris said the two men discussed Brown's plans for the raid, which would lead to Brown being tried for treason and executed.

"(Brown) didn't object to rousing the nation, and he thought something startling was just what the nation needed," he said. "He wanted to know what Douglass thought about his plan."

According to Morris, Douglass had reservations about the raid.

"Douglass said of Brown that all his arguments and all of his descriptions of the place 'convinced me that he was going into a perfect steel trap,'" Morris said. "John Brown was a man of action. He was a man of great conviction, and a man who would not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery. Brown urged Douglass to join him; thankfully, for the family, he didn't."

The event also featured musical performances by The Wannabees, a folk band featuring Mary-Nell Bockman, Katharine Preston and Donna Lou Sonnett, as well as speeches by John Brown Lives! Executive Director Martha Swan and Renan Salgado, a human trafficking investigator.

 
 

 

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