by iampunha | 9/03/2008 08:00:00 AM
Benny. Just Benny. Anyone asks, you're Benny, a free seaman. Here are your papers. See? Free colored seaman.

Gotta look calm. Don't look around too much; if you look suspicious, you are suspicious.

Just keep walking. Look straight ahead, quickly to the left and right now, good. Good. Just keep calm, act like this is natural.

It is natural. You ought to be free.

How ... again?

Is that -- no. No. And you're just Benny. Just Benny.

What? Something startle you? No, you just stumbled and were afraid you'd fall. That's all that was. No worries, now.

Just Benny. Got travel orders with your name on them. Yes, sir, here they are. All in order. No, sir, traveling light. Yes, sir. Seat 5A? Thank you, sir.

Just Benny. Benny, the free black seaman, on his way to work in New York.

And freedom.

for e.e. cummings, who died on sept. 3, 1962, but not before giving us a grasshopper.

On Sept. 3, 1838, Frederick Bailey boarded a train with the papers of a man he'd met in Baltimore.

The man had not been robbed of those papers; rather, he'd given them freely to Bailey so the latter could use them to escape to the North.

What awaited Bailey in New York?


And nothing.

Freedom. Everything. The chance to marry his love, a free black woman, and start a family no white man could sell or send off to someone else.

No family. Nothing.

Mother? Dead. Father? Identity uncertain, but white, and not in the picture.

Family? Grandmother, back in Maryland. He hadn't seen her in 14 years.

And even if family were trying to find him, he had to change his name to avoid being found by the wrong people.

From these trying roots rose a great orator and speaker. A world traveler. A writer, an activist and a newsman.

All of this while still technically another man's property. And while the man born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was in England, his daughter died.

Suddenly, he was an ex-slave, an acclaimed author, a highly sought speaker and consultant and ... in danger of being caught and given back to his old master if, upon his return from overseas, someone spotted him as Frederick Bailey.

While grieving for his daughter, who was 11, he must also be careful not to be captured and returned to life as a slave.

Show me the man -- no, the human being -- who keeps himself composed while having to cut short a European speaking tour because his daughter has just died, and who must also manage to navigate around slave catchers as he returns to a land where slavery is still legal and running away from it is still illegal.

He ran for public office having been on the run from the law for almost 27 years. The Emancipation Proclamation meant he could stop running from Thomas Auld and prepare to run for something.

His running mate couldn't even vote for herself, and she wouldn't have been allowed to take office; she was too young.

Kossacks, I give you Frederick Douglass, whose daring and sense of self are a credit to his American spirit and those who helped him along the way.

Archaeologists Dig into Frederick Douglass' Childhood

(2:38 in is a plaque in place because of my grandfather. Cemetery's cleaned up because of him, too.)