Frederick Douglass? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous anti-slavery orator Frederick Douglass once stated that society was slowly improving. He believed that he was seeing “the darkness gradually disappearing and the light gradually increasing”. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: On October 22, 1890 “The Evening Star” newspaper of Washington D. C. reported on a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church on the previous night. His concluding words looked to the future with an element of optimism engendered by a religious outlook. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
I have seen dark hours in my life, and I have seen the darkness gradually disappearing and the light gradually increasing. One by one I have seen obstacles removed, errors corrected, prejudices softened, proscriptions relinquished, and my people advancing in all the elements that go to make up the sum of general welfare. And I remember that God reigns in eternity, and that whatever delays, whatever disappointments and discouragements may come, truth, justice, liberty and humanity will ultimately prevail.
Below are additional selected citations and comments.
In April 1891 “The Miami Helmet” of Piqua, Ohio reprinted the passage above with an ascription to Frederick Douglass. The text was slightly shortened. The phrase “go to” was deleted, and the second “whatever” was also deleted. 2
In addition the 1891 book by Frederic May about the orator Frederick Douglass included the slightly shortened passage: 3
I have seen dark hours in my life, and I have seen the darkness gradually disappearing, and the light gradually increasing. One by one, I have seen obstacles removed, errors corrected, prejudices softened, proscriptions relinquished, and my people advancing in all the elements that make up the sum of general welfare. And I remember that God reigns in eternity, and that, whatever delays, disappointments, and discouragements may come, truth, justice, liberty, and humanity will ultimately prevail.
In conclusion, Frederick Douglass should receive credit for the words he delivered during a speech in October 1890.
(Thanks to author Andrew McAfee whose October 2019 tweet led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. McAfee displayed part of the passage as a chapter epigraph in his 2019 book “More from Less”. In addition, thanks to an anonymous person who asked about this passage.)
- 1890 October 22, The Evening Star, White Man and Negro: A Characteristic Speech by Hon. Fred Douglass, Quote Page 9, Column 3, Washington, D. C. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1891 April 9, The Miami Helmet, Our Correspondent, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Piqua, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1891, Frederick Douglass: The Colored Orator by Frederic May Holland, Chapter 14: The Nation’s Problem, Quote Page 392, Funk & Wagnalls, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩