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Black history interwoven with suffrage centennial

Tubman, Wells and Douglass helped both movements

OW Staff Writer | 2/13/2020, midnight

Duster has written, published and contributed to a total of nine books, two of which include the writings of her great-grandmother: “Ida in Her Own Words” and “Ida from Abroad.” She gives presentations about her work to make sure that Wells’ legacy does not fade from public memory.

“I learned at an early age that my great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, was a force to be reckoned with,” Duster writes in one of her articles. “At the end of the 19th century, as an investigative journalism pioneer, she uncovered and documented in meticulous detail the violence of lynching.”

In 1913, Wells founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first African-American women’s group that advocated for the right to vote. The club aimed to give a voice to Black women who had been excluded from other suffrage organizations. Although women in Chicago were granted the right to vote in 1910, Whites tried to ban Blacks from voting altogether.

As Wells stated in her autobiography: “We (women) could use our vote for the advantage of ourselves and our race.”

Kenneth B. Morris Jr., is the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895) and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington (1856 - 1915). His mother, Nettie Washington Douglass, is the daughter of Nettie Hancock Washington (granddaughter of Booker T. Washington) and Dr. Frederick Douglass III (great-grandson of Frederick Douglass).

Morris contributed to the afterword to “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American.” He also wrote the forward to the 2017 centennial edition of the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,” which the Library of Congress named one of the 88 books that shaped America.

Douglass, whose biography was published in 1845, escaped slavery as a young man and devoted his life to ending it through his abolitionist speaking engagements. He became an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln. Later, he used the platform of his newspaper, the North Star, to enlist petitioners to sign the declaration supporting women’s rights.

A believer in the equality of all, Douglass was the only African-American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, held in upstate New York, where he spoke in favor of women’s suffrage.

Morris now carries the abolitionist torch of his ancestor’s legacy with his work in the fight against modern day slavery and his co-founding of the Atlanta-based non-profit Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI), which has its mission to advance freedom through knowledge and strategic action.

He began his activism when a buddy passed along a magazine.

“The cover story was of 21st century slaves and I reacted the way I think most people do,” Morris said. “Slavery didn’t end with the work of Frederick Douglass, and I have two teenage daughters, who at the time were 12 and 9 years old. I got up and walked into my girls’ room and I found that I couldn’t look them in the eyes and not do anything.”

The FDFI teaches children about the 27 million people currently enslaved worldwide.

“As Frederick Douglass said, it’s easer to build strong children than repair broken men,” said Morris.