Trending Topics

Obama’s Pathway Cleared by Ex-Slave, Abolitionist Frederick Douglass

I was moved by this poem when I heard it on the radio this weekend and thought I’d share it with you.

It’s by Martin Espada, who visited the tomb of Frederick Douglass the day Obama was elected and found that the shrine was filled with tokens of joy and celebration born of struggle from ordinary people. One can only imagine what Martin Luther King or Frederick Douglass would think of this day. It’s a day in which a black president was sworn into office once more beneath the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol. Slaves built and positioned that statue, ironically. Without a slave who demanded to be free and who helped free all others – Frederick Douglass – the presidency of Barack Obama is not possible. It’s important to remember not only the great heroes who paved the way, but also all those everyday heroes who make this a great nation.

Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglass

Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, New York

November 7, 2008


This is the longitude and latitude of the impossible;

this is the epicenter of the unthinkable;

this is the crossroads of the unimaginable:

the tomb of Frederick Douglass, three days after the election.


This is a world spinning away from the gravity of centuries,

where the grave of a fugitive slave has become an altar.

This is the tomb of a man born as chattel, who taught himself to read in secret,

scraping the letters in his name with chalk on wood; now on the anvil-flat stone

a campaign button fills the O in Douglass. The button says: Obama.

This is the tomb of a man in chains, who left his fingerprints

on the slavebreaker’s throat so the whip would never carve his back again;

now a labor union T-shirt drapes itself across the stone, offered up

by a nurse, a janitor, a bus driver. A sticker on the sleeve says: I Voted Today.

This is the tomb of a man who rolled his call to arms off the press,

peering through spectacles at the abolitionist headline; now a newspaper

spreads above his dates of birth and death. The headline says: Obama Wins.


This is the stillness at the heart of the storm that began in the body

of the first slave, dragged aboard the first ship to America. Yellow leaves

descend in waves, and the newspaper flutters on the tomb, like the sails…

Read More: Cheryl Contee (Jill Tubman),



What people are saying

Leave a Reply

Back to top