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The Frederick Douglass Family, Pioneers in Civil Rights and Baseball

Jul 13 – Jul 26, 2023
Praising the Past

frederick douglass jr

The Summer 2023 issue of the journal Military Collector & Historian reprinted the following story:

"On 13 July 1867, the New York Clipper ran this notice:

Fred Douglass Sees a Colored Game

“The announcement that the Pythian, of Philadelphia, would play the Alert, of Washington, D.C., (both colored organizations,) on the 16th inst., attracted quite a concourse of spectators to the grounds of the Athletic, Seventeenth Street and Columbia avenue, Philadelphia. The game progressed finely until the beginning of the fifth inning, when a heavy shower of rain set in compelling the umpire, Mr. E. A. Hahurst, of the Athletic, to call the game. The score stood at the end of the fourth inning: Alert, 21, Pythian, 18.

The batting and fielding of both clubs were very good. Mr. Frederick Douglass was present and viewed the game from the reporters stand. His son is a member of the Alert."

With baseball beginning around the 1850s and the Douglass' family having been involved in the game as early as 1867, they may be considered pioneers in America’s favorite pastime as well as civil rights.

The New York Clipper passage was part of the article: "1861- 1871: New Observations on Military Baseball in the United States” by Anthony F. Gero. He goes on to observe that: "...although the name of Douglass' son is not given on the Alerts, two of Douglass' sons, Charles and Lewis, served in the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the war. One could reasonably argue that one or the other had knowledge of the game and, perhaps, played it as well while serving with the famed Regiment. Unfortunately, until substantiation of that can be found in reliable sources that is only an intriguing speculation at this time.” The exploits of the 54th Massachusetts were memorably portrayed in the film "Glory.”

Douglass actually had three sons that saw service during the Civil War: Lewis Henry (1840-1908), Frederick, Jr., (1842-1908), and Charles Remond (1844-1920). Charles signed up first with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers and also served with the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. In the 54th, Lewis mustered in and rose to the rank of sergeant major. Frederick Jr. recruited Black men for the Army.

Charles may have played for the Unexpected, a Rochester, NY baseball team, even before the family began to relocate to the nation's capital. He went on to play for the Washington Alerts.

Charles was the family’s ball fan. According to "Black Baseball, 1858 - 1900" by James E. Brunson III, he also played for another DC team, the Mutuals. "He was an infielder, primarily a second baseman," according to Brunson, "He appears to have played some outfield for the Mutuals. As president of the latter club, he was responsible for scheduling opponents and negotiating his team's share of the gate."

“Off the field, he worked as a clerk for the Freedman's Bureau and then for the Treasury Department before eventually becoming an examiner for the Pension Bureau,” added Brunson. In "Negro Leagues Baseball,” Roger Bruns, the author, claims that "Frederick and Charles Douglass, themselves formed a number of baseball clubs, hired officials, and scheduled games.”

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