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Ethiop [William J. Wilson] to Frederick Douglass, March 5, 1853


From our Brooklyn Correspondent.

DEAR DOUGLASS:—You know my fondness for rambling. The country affords pleasure; the city, if nothing else, abundant, information. If the country gives vigor to the spirits, the city induces many profitable reflections. Hence, if I go to the country often, I perambulate the city oftener, and even venture, occasionally, into Gotham. Well, I went over to that mysterious city the other day, and the first salutation from a wag was, "there goes Ethiop." Set that down to your account, my dear sir. I was in Gotham, and saw much, but shall speak of little that I saw. Among other things, I was strongly attracted by some fine specimens of daguerreotypes in oil, hanging in a Broadway stair passage; and in my minute examination of them without heeding, found I had wound my way up the ample and tastefully hung stairs, where I was confonted by a very polite gentleman, inviting me within a splendid chamber, artistically hung with the finest specimens of daguerrean likenesses in oil, and otherwise perhaps in the country. Likenesses thus taken in oil are so accurate, so life-like,


that they seem to be life itself. The individual is before you. There is no mistaking it. The Gallery, let me say, was no other than the distinguished PLUMB'S, and Ethiop was strongly solicited by that gentlemanly proprietor to sit for a miniature. The next time he goes to Gotham, he thinks he will submit. A little incident occurred while in this establishment worth mentioning: Two well-dressed colored lads, about fifteen years of age, came swaggering in, and, though with a strong flavor of black Broadway (alias Church Street) about them—sporting large box coats, tight pants and patent boots, and a Havanah each, coupled with their swaggering air—yet I soon detected that one was employed in the establishment. What struck me most, was the careless indifference, and insolence of manner with which he received some special directions of the proprietor, and I could but conclude that it was one of the reasons why, with our young men, it was situation to-day, and evacuation to-morrow. I again found myself in Broadway. Incidents in this great thoroughfare are numerous enough-sights so plentiful that they completely bewilder the common countryman; and shall I confess it, they so bewildered me, fresh as I was from the Heights, that I have bun a confused idea of what I did see. I remember to have found myself peering within a celler, at the door of which, among some fine specimens of statuary, stood in solemn majesty "the Father of our country."


pallid, persive, beckoning me in. I entered, and became so deeply absorbed in the wonders around me, that it was some moments before I became aware of the presence of an extraordinary image, bolt up right before me—one of the old masters, truly, said I, as I looked up. It was the proprietor, an Italian, whose head would have given the painter or sculptor more delight than any one of the fine models of his own studio. But to return; there stood Franklin and Adams, Lafayette and Jefferson, and Clay and Webster; the gods and godesses were there, and the Queen of England was there, and so was the emperor of France; but I found not the Emperor of Hayti, nor of Dohomey, nor the President of Liberia, nor any other distinguished black. I inquired for one or two-Touissant L'Overtuere, Boyer and Faustin I. The reply of the old Italian, after a shrug of his shoulders, was "they no sell in this country." I asked for some who had distinguished themselves in the country. "They no sell," was the same reply. "Washington he sell; Franklin he sell, and," pointing to some others, "they sell," said he. "I have there," said he, pointing to a box, "busts of great colored men of West Indies, for go there; sell well there; no sell here." No


demand has been made, thought I, as I rushed out of his place into the street. The result of all this, upon my mind, may be summed up in a few words. A radical change in the process of our development is here demanded. At present, what we find around us, either in art of literature, is made so to press upon us, that we depreciate, we despise, we almost hate ourselves, and all that favors us. Well may we scoff at black skins and woolly heads, since every model set before us for admiration, has pallid face and flaxen head, or emanations therefore. I speak plainly. It is useless to mince the matter. Every one of your readers knows that a black girl would as soon fondle an imp as a black doll—such is the force of this species of education upon her. I remember once to have suddenly introduced one among a company of twenty colored girls, and if it had been a spirit the effect could not have been more wonderful. Such scampering and screaming can better be imagined than told. As simple as these slight incidents may seem at first sight, they lie at the bottom of half our difficulties. No, no; we must begin to tell our own story, write our own lecture, paint our own picture, chisel our own bust, (I demand not caricatures but correct emanations,) acknowledge and love our own peculiarities if we have any. Ever so little done in these directions


is worth more than all we have ever done, assimilative of the whites since creation, or can do till the end of time. The encouragement and self-reliance it will inspire will do more to push us forward than all the speculations about our "manifest destiny," &c., that has emanated from the brains of all the fools, white or black, in Christendom. Now is the time to begin to cultivate among us both a taste for the arts and sciences themselves, before we become more deeply immersed in the rougher affairs of life. Our present peculiar situation well calculates us for their highest perfection. But I must break off here to resume the subject. Some rich and spicy events have occurred in Gotham since my last. I shall speak of them hereafter. Enough for the present to say, that the moral teachings of Church St. and St. Philip's Row, and the rival claims of the leaders of the black ton, to become the instructors, formed the staple of the budget. I learn from a reliable source here, that it is in contemplation to send Sam Ward to England—that means is to be provided for his support while there. The object of this is, that his strong arm may hoe the good seed sown there by Uncle Tom, and otherwise culture the stock and the blade till the full ear comes. Who better than this man, provided he keeps proper command over his inner-self, is calculated for the task? Yours truly, ETHIOP.

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, March 5th, 1853.


Ethiop (William J. Wilson)


March 5, 1853


Ethiop [William J. Wilson] to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 11 March 1853. Argues blacks must elevate themselves by learning fine arts.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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