From Slavery to Significance

Originally published in Flourishing February 2011.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born a slave in his grandmother’s shack east of Tappers Corner, Maryland in February of 1818.  The exact date of his birth is unknown.  He was separated from his mother, Harriet Bailey, when he was still an infant and lived with his maternal grandmother Betty Bailey. His mother died when he was seven. Like his birthday, the identity of his father is uncertain.

When Frederick was about twelve years old, his master’s wife, Sophia Auld, started teaching him the alphabet, despite the fact that it was against the law in Maryland to teach slaves to read. Frederick later described Sophia as a kind and tender-hearted woman, who treated him like one human being ought to treat another. When Sophia’s husband discovered her activity, he strongly disapproved, saying that if a slave learned to read, he would become dissatisfied with his condition and desire freedom.  Mr. Auld was certainly right about that.

Those remarks made by his master told Frederick that education was his ticket to freedom.  He continued his studies, learning to read from white children in the neighborhood, and by observing the writings of the men with whom he worked.

When Frederick was hired out to William Freeland, he taught other slaves on the Freeland plantation to read the New Testament at a weekly Sunday school. As word spread, the interest among slaves in learning to read was so great that in any given week, more than 40 slaves would attend lessons. For about six months, their study went relatively unnoticed. But, soon enough, area plantation owners became incensed that their slaves were being educated. One Sunday morning they burst into the gathering armed with clubs and stones to disperse Frederick’s congregation permanently.

Later, he was hired out to Edward Covey, who was widely regarded as a “slave breaker”.  He regularly applied a whip to Frederick’s back, until Frederick finally fought back—apparently with some success—as Covey never threatened him again.

On September 3, 1838, Frederick successfully escaped his slave masters by boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland.  He carried identification papers provided by a free black sailor. He crossed the Susquehanna River by ferry at Havre de Grace, then continued by train to Wilmington, Delaware. From there he went by steamboat to Philadelphia.  He arrived in New York City within twenty-four hours of boarding the train to Havre d Grace.  And, soon after arriving in New York, Frederick married Anna Murray, a free black woman he had met in 1837.

As a runaway slave, Frederick continued his studies, and was soon giving lectures on the living conditions, attitudes, and hopes of those still held in bondage.  As a fugitive slave, of course, Frederick’s own freedom and safety were much at risk.  He traveled to England for a time, and there he found sponsors who purchased his freedom from his previous slave masters in Maryland.

Early in his studies, Frederick had been a Constitutional skeptic, but as he continued to grow and learn throughout his life, he came to agree with Lysander Spooner (1808 – 1887), the great American libertarian writer, that the United States Constitution was an anti-slavery document. This reversed his earlier agreement with William Lloyd Garrison (1805 – 1879), another prominent abolitionist, that it was pro-slavery.  Garrison had famously burned a copy of the Constitution in protest of slavery. 

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, declared the freedom of all slaves in Confederate-held territory.  Frederick described his emotions as he waited:

We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky…we were watching…by the dim light of the stars for the dawn of a new day…we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries.1

The Constitutional question of slavery was settled by the post-war (1865) ratification of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery nationwide, the 14th Amendment (1868), which provided for citizenship and equal protection under the law, and the 15th Amendment (1870), which protected all citizens from being discriminated against in voting because of race.  Sadly, it was another hundred years before black Americans in much of the nation would truly be free and equal citizens. 

Yes, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey became Frederick C. Douglass, the famous American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman.  (The name Douglass was taken from Sir Walter Scott’s 1810 poem, Lady of the Lake.)  As Frederick C. Douglass, the former slave became famous throughout the world for his glittering oratory and his insightful and inspirational writing.  Frederick C. Douglass was living and irrefutable proof that a black man is fully capable of functioning as a self-possessed, self-actualizing, and self-sustaining American citizen.

At the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial, during the presidential term of Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick C. Douglass was the keynote speaker:

Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word?2

The crowd, roused by his speech, which was candid in its assessment of “Honest Abe”, gave Douglass  a standing ovation. Lincoln’s favorite walking stick, given to him by Mrs. Lincoln, still rests in Douglass’ house known as Cedar Hill3, as both a testimony and a tribute to the effect of Douglass’ powerful public speaking.

On February 20, 1895, Frederick C. Douglass, the former slave who was taught the alphabet by his master’s wife, was invited to a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C.  During that meeting, he was brought to the platform and given a standing ovation by the audience. Shortly after he returned home, and as he recounted the day’s events to his wife, he died of a massive heart attack.

Today, the legacy of Frederick C. Douglass is still with us. By the example of his life, lived in pursuit of freedom for all people, he literally changed the world.  mh

Biographical information used in this essay was drawn from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass# Life_as_a_slave

1 A Biography of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Sandra Thomas, http://www.history.rochester.edu/class/douglass/home. html#contents

2 Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, http://www.teaching americanhistory.org/library/index.asp? documentprint=39

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass_National_ Historic_Site

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What’s In a Name

Originally published in Flourishing January 2011.

Fred Harvey was seventeen years old when he arrived in New York City in 1853.  Following his father’s business failure in London, he had left his family and friends to seek his own fortune in the land of milk and honey.  Fred began his business career humbly, as a “pot walloper” in a New York City diner; but while washing dishes, he learned some valuable lessons about business management from his employers.

Hard-working Fred advanced quickly with his employers in New York, and he soon married and had children.  He saved some money and moved his family to St. Louis, where he started a restaurant near the site of the present-day Gateway Arch.  In the 1860’s, St. Louis, like the country itself, was divided over the issue of slavery.  Fred was staunchly anti-slavery, but he wasn’t confrontational; his partner was a Confederate sympathizer.  Fred’s silence offered little protection, however.  His restaurant was burned to the ground during a riot, and his partner skipped town with all their cash.  Uninsured, and just as broke as the day he landed in New York, Fred set out for Leavenworth, Kansas to begin again.  He was twenty-six years old.

In Leavenworth, Fred found a way to put food on the family table, selling advertising for newspapers in cities and towns along the new Santa Fe Railroad.  He had to ride the train a lot, traveling as far east as Chicago, Buffalo, and Boston; and west to Santa Fe.  Fred befriended several senior railroad executives along the way,  impressing them with his work ethic and his honesty.  With his food service background, Fred soon realized that railroad passengers would pay well for good food and courteous service, both of which were in short supply along the Santa Fe line.  His next opportunity was knocking, and Fred was ready.

A part of Fred’s idea was to provide elegant, well-cooked meals for railway passengers in clean restaurants on white tablecloths with napkins cut from white Irish linen.  He hired trained chefs from Chicago, New York, and even from Europe, to prepare the food.  One of his first chefs relocated from Chicago’s Palmer House to tiny Florence, Kansas, and soon became the Fred Harvey food service director all along the Santa Fe line. 

Perhaps Fred’s greatest innovation, though, was the Harvey Girls, who were single young women recruited from good families and good schools.  They were trained in the “Harvey Standard” of service before they were sent west on the rails to their assigned Harvey House restaurants.  From the 1870’s until World War II, Harvey Girls were easily recognized by their clean – that is to say, spotless – starched, black and white uniforms, and they were renowned for their disciplined adherence the “Harvey Standard”.  Fred demanded that discipline, and he enforced it with strict inspections. In return, he respected the girls’ dignity and the risks they were taking.  The young ladies all lived in chaperoned dormitories near their Harvey House restaurants. 

It’s hard to imagine how difficult that innovation was to establish.  That was the era of Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Bat Masterson. There were precious few women in the work force anywhere, let alone in the southwest; but Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls became a civilizing influence from Kansas City through south central Kansas and Oklahoma to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and southern California.

Expanding rapidly alongside the Santa Fe rail, Fred Harvey soon owned and managed a small empire. In addition to the Harvey House restaurants, there were classic hotels, a few of which are still in use, and vast cattle ranches in Kansas and New Mexico. By the time Fred Harvey (the man) died in 1901, Fred Harvey (the company) was the most recognized brand in America.  Fred Harvey was Ray Kroc before McDonald’s, Willard Marriott before Marriott Hotels, and Howard Schultz before Starbucks.*

But the story doesn’t end with Fred Harvey’s death. Fred’s oldest son, Ford; Ford’s wife, Judy; and David Benjamin, a key executive in the company, continued to extend the Fred Harvey brand.  There were Fred Harvey newsstands, drug stores, bakeries, soda fountains, and much more.  Fred Harvey owned virtually every Santa Fe depot restaurant from Chicago and St. Louis to southern California. Fred Harvey became the exclusive concession operator for the Union Stations in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago, among others.

After World War II, though, people  traveling to and from the western United States no longer depended on rail service, and it became more difficult for Fred Harvey to maintain a competitive advantage and generate a profit.  Never in debt, the company just slowly ceased its operations, and by the mid 1960’s it was gone. 

One never hears the name Fred Harvey these days.  Though I’m frequently asked whether I’m related to Henry or Paul, no one has ever asked me about my relationship to Fred.  (At least as far back as 1794, I’ve found no familial connection to any of them.)  Yet Fred Harvey not only helped define business in the United States, he helped in no small way to define the United States itself.  To tell the truth, I’m disappointed that I didn’t learn anything at all about Fred Harvey in school!

And that brings me to the point of this little essay: You really should read Appetite for America, by Stephen Fried, published by Bantam in 2010.  It is a masterfully researched history of Fred Harvey—the man, the company he created, his family—and the development of the American southwest from before the Civil War to the end of World War II. 

Under Stephen Fried’s caring hand, the taming of the wild, wild, west becomes a series of lessons in business strategies and practices, old world courtesies, historic preservation of native artifacts, environmental awareness, architectural innovation, and family and business continuity across multiple generations. Appetite for America is the story of America becoming America; a paean to America’s entrepreneurial soul—and implicitly, at least—a conduit connecting America’s past with its future.

You will appreciate, too, that there are almost one hundred pages of appendices and notes. These include a tour of the Harvey sites that still exist. You’ll even find recipes for food served at the Harvey House restaurants. You might want to try one of Harry and Bess Truman’s favorites, Cream of Wisconsin Cheese Soup.  I think you will just love Appetite for America. mh

* Appetite for America, by Stephen Fried, Bantam, 2010, from the author’s introduction.