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Frederick Douglass’ Descendant Urges Education and Critical Thinking

January 31 – February 13, 2019
Praising the Past

kenneth morris

The great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass, who is also the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington, closed Maryland’s bicentennial celebration of Frederick Douglass’s birth at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis last Saturday.  “We want young people to start thinking critically about their condition,” proclaimed Kenneth B. Morris after explaining how Douglass learned how to read and began questioning his condition as an enslaved person.

Morris is continuing his family’s legacy of anti-slavery and educational work as co-founder and president of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI). Prior to co-founding FDFI with his mother in 2007, Morris was a partner at C&A Marketing, a marketing and entertainment firm partnership, recognized as a leader in the field of corporate meetings, incentive travel, and the development of customized marketing programs.

Morris, who was born in Washington, DC, raised in California, and completed his undergraduate studies in religion at Golden State’s University of La Verne, had an intercontinental message for the mainly African-American audience. He projected how a Syrian child could ask, “Why am I a refugee?” just as Douglass questioned why he was enslaved.

As a youngster, Morris spent his summers in Douglass’ Highland Beach, Maryland home. He recalled   wondering why the eyes in the portrait of his famous ancestor hanging in the home followed him. “There was a lot of pressure to do well in life,” he said.

History continues to humble Morris as he spoke at the museum that once housed Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church. Records show that Douglass once addressed the African American people of Annapolis at a local African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mount Moriah or Asbury) on June 20, 1874.

Douglass and his first wife, Anna, had 5 children. Morris is a direct descendent to their youngest son, Charles.
Kenneth B. Morris projected how a Syrian child could ask, “Why am I a refugee?” just as Douglass questioned why he was enslaved.

The Douglass and Washington families intersected in 1941 when the future couple Dr. Frederick Douglass III (great-grandson of Frederick Douglass) and Nettie Hancock Washington (granddaughter of Booker T. Washington) had a chance meeting at Tuskegee Institute. There only child, Nettie Washington Douglass, is Morris’ mother.  Booker T. Washington, who was born enslaved as was Douglass, founded Tuskegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University.

“I stand one person away from slavery,” Morris said as he remembered “Aunt Portia,” Booker T. Washington’s daughter, who lived to be 95. He also reminded the audience on how short the period is between Emancipation to now.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who is non-Black,  gave a brief speech at the festive event on the importance of Douglass and other Maryland Blacks from Harriet Tubman to Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first Black supreme court justice. Ironically, the overwhelmingly Black crowd of history buffs gave Hogan a more than warm applause though Hogan’s election and re-election thwarted two different Black men from making history by becoming Maryland’s first Black governor.

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