Daily Reading for February 19 • Frederick Douglass, Prophetic Witness, 1895 (transferred)

It is my contention that Douglass anticipated a liberation theology, a theology that is at the heart of the Christian tradition to eradicate economic, social, and political oppression. Douglass was carving an emancipatory pedagogy out of the stone of oppression that weighed heavily upon him and his people. He knew that the religious practices of this land served one purpose only—to keep the oppressor on top and to make the oppressor more powerful. As long as the oppressor can convince the oppressed that their lot is designed and orchestrated by God, there will never be a balance of power between the groups. Therefore, Douglass spent a lifetime trying to correct the miseducation of the oppressed who had accepted their oppressors’ religion and its interpretation, which meant relegating liberation to an eschatological orientation.

To help correct the miseducation of the oppressed, Douglass painstakingly deconstructed the theological and philosophical guardian religion that conserved and protected the walls of oppression. He knew that in order to bring out social reform, agitation was essential in acting to transform the social context in which the disinherited masses lived out their lives. The oppressed must be the ultimate evaluators of their situation. They must be the ones to label their situation and determine the kind of response needed to achieve their liberation. For example, Douglass pointed out that the same revolutionary spirit that brought about America’s freedom and independence from the British was needed to bring about the liberation of the American slaves. . . .

In 1895, at the close of a brilliant career, a young man asked for Douglass’s advice for a person just starting out. Douglass replied, “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” Douglass understood that if the oppressed were to attain their liberation, it must be through the persistent agitation of the oppressor. But he knew that the antecedent to agitation is the need for a critical analysis to determine the nature of oppression. He understood that an enslaved people cannot move forward toward liberating themselves until they know who they are and who their oppressors are. Once this becomes clear, they must act against those forces. This new awareness of selfhood would be the driving force behind the social agitation.

From by Frederick Douglass: A Precursor of Liberation Theology by Reginald F. Davis (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005).

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