What Frederick Douglass Might Say to Us Today

Updated: Jun 11

Check out the interview Virginia Allen / @Virginia_Allen5 did with FDF Founder Dean Nelson The wisdom of leaders like 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass is


critical at this moment in America’s history. The Rev. Dean Nelson, the executive director of Human Coalition Action and chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, joins the show to explain what Douglass’ message to America might be if he were with us today. 

Nelson also explains that to end racism in America, society as a whole must place a value on all human life, whether babies in the womb or grown men such as George Floyd. 

We also read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about people across the nation who are helping African American entrepreneurs rebuild destroyed businesses in the wake of riots after Floyd’s death. Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.


Listen to the Podcast interview HERE


Text of interview


Virginia Allen: I am joined by Rev. Dean Nelson, executive director of Human Coalition Action and the chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. Rev. Nelson, thank you so much for being here.

Rev. Dean Nelson: Thank you guys. It’s always a pleasure to be with you, particularly at crucial times in our nation’s history like this.

Allen: Absolutely. I want to begin by just asking you to tell us a little bit about the work that you do at Human Coalition Action.

Nelson: Certainly, yes. Human Coalition was started about a decade ago, with this idea of engaging with women, particularly, around the country to provide alternatives to abortion.

I joined the team about six years ago as their national outreach director, particularly working with partnerships in government and in the church community. We secured some fantastic partnerships with some of the largest African American denominations in the country to do the vital work.

As we continued, we recognized that the work that we do was important in the education space, and certainly as a service provider providing these free resources to women who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy.

In fact, we did it so well that state governments, and even the federal government, showed interest in how we were effectively using technology to engage with women in these vulnerable populations.

So, we recognized that states had a real interest in the work, and we actually secured some contracts and grants in states, again, helping particularly black and Latino women get services that they would need to help them to make that healthy choice for unborn or preborn children.

Fast-forward, we saw, then, we needed to have a (c)(4) to kind of build a grassroots group around the country to advocate for preborn children as well as for women. And so, Human Coalition Action was born almost a year ago to do that very thing.

Allen: Wow. We’re so thankful for the work that you all are doing. It’s really so critical and so powerful, and I think highly, highly relevant to the situation that today we find ourselves in, this really critical moment.

As we’re going to talk about today, only two weeks ago, George Floyd was killed, and America is grieving. It’s become evident that we’re at a critical point in America’s history. Can you share just some of your thoughts about the moment before us?

Nelson: Well, first off, my heart still goes out to his family that’s obviously still grieving with the loss.

You know, it’s hard to watch the video of George Floyd being killed without concluding that his death was both tragic and the result of an evil act. He clearly posed no threat to the officer who killed him, and the subsequent firing of the other … officers that were involved felt like that was a good start.

I’m not a prosecutor, and I’m not privy to, still, all of the details as more come out. But at the same time, looking at that video, to the casual observer, it just seems that some of the things that have been laid may be too lenient, but we’ll see.

But it was tragic, and my hope is that many individuals, many organizations cross-culturally can continue to work to see healing and resolution. It is a tricky challenge for many people, but I’m glad to be part of the conversation.

Allen: Yeah. You are the chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. If Frederick Douglass was here with us today, what do you think he would say?

Nelson: [That’s] a great question, and I’ve thought a lot about this, listening and re-reading some of Frederick Douglass’ writings, who himself had a degree of evolution from the time that he started, escaping from slavery as a young abolitionist, to the time that he served multiple presidents.

I think, one, he would echo the word “agitate, agitate, agitate.” Frederick Douglass was one who felt like we needed to push the boundaries, whether it was with the federal government in his relationship with President [Abraham] Lincoln, whether it was with other white leaders like William Lloyd Garrison, who he worked with and then broke away from. I think that the “agitate, agitate, agitate” is an appropriate word that I feel like Frederick Douglass would echo.

That being said, he was always one who felt that we needed, … particularly as black people, to demonstrate a level of dignity and poise.

Frederick Douglass, as you may remember, was the most photographed person in the 19th century, and every photograph that you will see is a poised and distinguished African American man.

Part of that reason was because of the caricatures that were around at the time, and he wanted to represent black men and black people very differently.

And so, I think that Frederick Douglass would have a real problem with what we have seen in our culture with the looting, with the destruction of property. I think that that is beneath us as a people, and I think that he would be very disappointed with that type of activity that we’ve seen, really, from both sides, white and black.

Allen: How did you come to be involved with the Frederick Douglass Foundation?

Nelson: Basically, ... The rest HERE

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