Frederick Douglass IV is proud to live the life of his ancestor. The great-great grandson of famed 19th century orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Frederick IV travels the United States with his wife re-enacting his famous relative’s life.
A graduate of Morgan State University, Frederick IV resides in Baltimore and is the founder of the Frederick Douglass Organization Inc., a nonprofit organization established to conduct activities that bring the words of Frederick Douglass to life through presentations to and dialogues with diverse groups.
Bankrate spoke to Frederick Douglass IV about personal finances and the African American community.
Bankrate: Do you have special expenses in re-enacting your ancestor?
Frederick Douglass: Not really. There’s the travel. No plastic surgery; my face seems to resemble my great-great grandfather’s. I have about four costumes. My wife has a lot more, women seem to like to have more changes of clothing. We had them made for us. We have them constructed according to what middle-class black people were wearing in the 1800s. It’s a misnomer … not every black person before the Civil War was a slave. There was a successful middle class and intelligensia. We portray my ancestor and his wife during their successful period. We look at books and get the costumes made in Maryland and D.C., mostly.
Bankrate: Your great-great grandfather left Baltimore to go to New York; how did you end up back in Baltimore?
Douglass: He went to Rochester, New York, to found the paper, the North Star. Then, he came back to D.C., and his home, Cedar Hill, is a national historic monument, a tourist place.
Bankrate: What do you think is the most crucial financial issue facing African-Americans today?
Douglass: Access to the upper echelons of companies. There have been financial gains, but still, there is a glass ceiling. It’s true for women, too. I think through perseverance and hard work, along with greater openness on the part of companies, we’ll break that. I really believe in the American Dream.
Bankrate: Where do you stand on the slave-reparations issue?
Douglass: The more I find out about how wealth was gained in America, the more I’m in favor. There are so many companies that were built with slave labor. Imagine how productive you could be at college, even, with slave labor … slaves doing your homework, slaves doing your ironing, cooking. Some schools, such as University of Virginia, had to pass rules stopping people from bringing their four or five slaves to school. If my family had the benefit of slaves, they could have been accumulating wealth, instead of being stagnant.
Bankrate: In these days of school budget cutbacks, do you have to find corporate sponsors to underwrite your presentations to classes?
Douglass: There are different ways it can be done. Sometimes, going to a classroom, I will just do it on my own. But when I travel, those expenses have to be met. The fundraising picture has really changed. I do it myself.
Bankrate: What do you think the future of affirmative action will be?
Douglass: There will always be a test to affirmative action. I still think it’s necessary to the field of education. I still support it. When barriers exist, you still have to legislate equality. If the situation is not equal the government has to intervene.