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02/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An Open Letter to Frederick Douglass, Upon the Inauguration of President Obama

Dear Mr. Douglass,
I write to you as a white man from a future that is the answer to your prayers, a vindication of your dreams and a reward for your suffering. I come from a white man's Christianity which, as you write in your Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, is the; "justifier of the most appalling barbarity, and a dark shelter under which the darkest, grossest and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection."

As you also said; "were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all the slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst."

It is from that background of a bigoted, fundamentalist white American version of "Christianity" that I come. Moreover, Sir, many years after your day, from the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s, my father was instrumental in the creation of a movement known as the "Religious Right." Supposedly we were fighting for God but, of course, as you may guess, this was mostly a pretense for maintaining a status quo, hence the power of white men.

We never said so and would have denied everything, but the so-called Christian America we defended was born in the South and was most vigorously defended by the children of the white slaveholders, the same people who's great grandfathers separated you from your mother, and beat you bloody so many times.

Therefore, I write to you as the spiritual descendant of those who you describe as having seen; "tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cow skin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, would quote this passage of Scripture -- 'He that knows his master's will, and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.'"

One of your prophecies, amongst many, has come true. You wrote, "a very different looking class of people are springing up in the South, and are now held in slavery, from those originally brought to this country from Africa; and if their increase does no other good, it will do away the force of the argument, that God cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right... for thousands are ushered into the world, annually, who, like myself, owe their existence to white fathers and [who's] fathers most frequently are their [son's] own masters."

This day, Sir, the son of a black African and a white mother will become president of United States! And, like you who were of mixed race, the fact he is part black means that he is defined as black.

Great battles have been won beyond those you could have hardly imagined, even besides the election of our first black president. These are battles of the heart and spirit of ordinary Americans. For instance, my son recently fought for this country as United States Marine. The person my white and privileged son admired most was his black drill instructor. My son fought side-by-side with the great, great grandsons of slaves and would have given his life for them, as they would have for him. And my son's story is not unusual. We have black generals commanding white troops. Black and white soldiers are brothers now.

You may have imagined, from what I have told you of myself, that I would have voted for our black president's white opponent -- who, by the way, in ways subtle and not so subtle covered himself in shame and tried to stir up racial hatred for the black candidate by calling him "not one of us" etc., -- and done all in my power to see that no black whatever ever be my President. But quite the reverse is true.

Like millions of white Americans, in both the North and South, I voted for our new black President, and, not only that, I voted for him with tremendous confidence and enthusiasm, as I would have voted for a savior come to rescue our nation. And, not only that, like you, I'm a writer, and so used my words as best I could to fight for the black candidate. And, I was far from alone, merely one of tens of thousands of white men and women doing the same.

On that day of casting my vote, and on this day when we are moments from our new president taking his oath of office, I want you, Sir, to know that your words proved true when you wrote; "From my earliest recollection... [I had] a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This could spirit was from God, and him I offer thanksgiving and praise."

Dearest Sir, not everything has changed. There are still those driven by hate but it now they who are the minority. The "deep conviction" that you would not be held in slavery forever was a prophecy now vindicated as the first black American President will walk through the White House doors, doors on a building partly built by slaves, doors that excluded back men and women for the most part of American history, doors through which several of our presidents passed who were slaveholders themselves. Through these doors your spiritual son and my new President will walk carrying the hopes and dreams of every American.

Best of all we who voted for our new president did so because he was not only the best candidate, but like you, a great man with a great mind. We voted for him because he was clearly the best person for the job. And -- thank God! -- everything that President-elect Obama has done since his acceptance speech has confirmed his wisdom, humble demeanor, ability to explain and that ineffable spiritual quality of leadership that, simply put, makes those being led feel better. We already love this man and his family.

Dearest Frederick Douglass, in conclusion: thank you for your bravery and the witness you bore against our bitterest sin. Thank you for fighting to learn to read and write, even when a white nation conspired to deprive you of your birthright of knowledge, so that you could liberate our minds.

Sir, things may change! They have changed! The "stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone." Your great labors to make America a better, fairer, truer place were not in vain.

I humbly thank you. Rest in peace Frederick Douglass.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. Now in paperback.

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