My historical work started with Ambrose Douglas. Born enslaved in 1845, he died in 1940 nominally free, the father of 38 and the storyteller at a racist reimagining of a pre-civil war plantation. I was fascinated with how Ambrose Douglas found meaning amidst the violence and suffering of post-Civil War America in his stories and humor.
Then, I fell in love with Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist. After the Civil War ended, with his antislavery “church disbanded, and the beloved congregation dispersed,” and building on his model of an idealized ancient Egypt, Douglass became the prophet of his own vision of an ideal world. In this world, all false distinctions between people would fall away, as all people pursued “truth” and virtue. He believed that the U.S. American Empire could be reformed to model and usher in this utopia for the rest of the world.