Founding of the School

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an early supporter of the School. The venerable Douglass remained a critical link between the African American community and the community of reformers that funded several educational enterprises throughout the country. This link provided opportunities to meet with established reformers was important to the overall enterprise at the school. Douglass's name brought instant credibility to the school especially by giving the dedicatory address of the institution as well as a much needed call to the Washington community for financial assistance after MIS’s first fire.

Frederick Douglass

Douglass’s speech entitled The Blessings of Liberty and Education was given on September third, 1894 before a large crowd of Southern politicians and local residents. The speech was quite typical of Douglass’s style and it was an inspiring tribute to the high intentions and the lasting values of education. He was particularly impressed with the fact that the site of the school was near the site of the two major battles between the Union and Confederate armies. ...The North has changed and the South has changed, and we all have changed, and all changed for the better. Frederick Douglass-1894 Douglass was seeing the opening of the school as a progressive trend towards a new society based less upon the notions of racial identity and more upon the nature of individual merits. The vehicle that was transforming this society was education, thus MIS was more than a school for Blacks, it was also the means to promote the liberal democratic traditions that he saw as the American dream. Douglass writes, “Education, ... means emancipation. It means life and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of men into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free.” These ideals were conveyed in his speech.


The full dedication speech has been digitized at the Library of Congress.
Douglass Speech
It demonstrates many of Douglass's ideals regarding liberty but he also points to the good sense that articulates the needs of people thatlived in a difficult segregated environment. Douglass, like Dean, worried that if African Americans were not adequately trained and educated they would effectively become a permanent underclass that would be economically akin to slavery. Douglass argued that this was a problem for freedmen that he had seen while an editor of a newspaper in Rochester NY in the 1850s. He spoke of the virtue and value of all labor and lamented that in those earlier days it was easier for a black man to study the law or medicine than it was to study carpentry or the art of the blacksmith. In the end, Douglass is calling for access to the skilled trades. He worried that too many African Americans were being seen exclusively as waiters, porters, and domestic servants. With access to the trades Douglass saw opportunity. Education on the other hand means emancipation. It means light and liberty. Frederick Douglass-1894 This was a school meant to educate the mind and body. To teach philosophy and to teach the proper use of the hammer. Douglass continued with the delivery of a powerful speech that criticized the white and black communities.

Douglass feared that the Black community was overemphasizing the role of race and that they were, through their focus upon racial identity, validating white pseudoscientific racial doctrines. Douglass saw the new leadership in the black community like W.E.B. Dubois as a man with good intentions but that his attacks on Booker T. Washington and the division that was being created within the African American community would be harmful to the overarching goals of liberty for all. Douglass denied the scientific or moral existence of racial categories as a justification for the division or categorization of people into hierarchical models based on his notions of law, and the Bible. His statement was a warning to the Black community primarily due to his knowledge of Social Darwinism and the incorporation of racism into the principles of this theory to keep people of color separated from whites on the basis of their theoretical model which concentrated on inherent Black racial inferiority.


The School suffered from the first of many fires in Feb. 1895. Douglass made an appeal through the Washington Star on Feb 13, 1895 to raise money to replace the building that had burned. This building was originally built with funds given by Emily Howland from New York. The school already went from six students that were present at the time of Douglass's speech to over sixty pupils. Douglass died the next year but his support was instrumental for for Dean and the founding of the Manassas Industrial School.

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