Asheville – The Frederick Douglass Foundation (FDF) of North Carolina is targeting Asheville for what organizers hope will be some exciting educational programs.
The FDF is a national organization, with headquarters in Washington, DC, and chapters in every state. Its mission, paraphrased, is to empower minorities by applying the same principles that brought a high standard of living to America and continue to do the same in countries around the world. Specifically, these include connecting people with skills training, fostering a sense of belonging and responsibility to the greater community, eliminating needless government meddling and codependence, and making sure citizens are informed about candidates and issues.
FDFNC is led by Clarence Henderson, a civil rights activist and motivational speaker. He was one of the four black college students photographed at the Woolworth lunch counter in 1960. As a brief history lesson, during segregation, black people were not allowed to sit at the counter, and “black college students” means not so much that the students were black as that they attended an all-black college because they weren’t allowed in the all-white ones.
While headquartered in Raleigh, FDFNC deploys liaisons across the state to keep track of political events. Director of Operations Addul Ali explained that the foundation identifies, trains, and recruits future leaders. He wanted to be clear. The FDFNC is not part of the Republican Party, but its mission is to reconnect blacks with the party.
Ali was asked what that was supposed to mean in an era when, to an outsider, the Republican Party doesn’t even seem to know what it is; that is, it’s Trumpers vs. the Establishment, conscience voters vs. Get Out the Voters prioritizing electability, limited government people vs. the Deep State, vote-with-the-Democrats RINOs, etc. Besides, it seems most people would rather drink a tub of ipecac than talk politics. They’ve been betrayed by too many people who promised too much.
Ali backed up. He said he is working to build a coalition of people who are, politically, either slightly left or slightly right of center. He wants to build on common values, and he wants people to think outside the box, as it were, to accentuate the positive, even when the other party claims an issue first.
The hyped project that led to the interview was the “Douglass-Lincoln Debates,” a play in one act. This is not about the famous Lincoln-Douglas (one s) debates, but it concerns Douglass’ three trips to the White House to talk with Abraham Lincoln. (See section, “The Play.”) Ali said right now he is working with a local coalition on logistics, like finding a good venue.
It was suggested that he might work with Asheville’s Reparations group, since they’re heavily into storytelling. He might, but Ali wanted to be clear about where he stood on reparations.
“The idea of regression pushes against the facts,” he said. Three times in the conversation, he rattled off different collections of names of black people serving in high posts of elective office, both in the United States and specifically in North Carolina.
Ali described reparations as “idiotic” and “just asinine.” It was based on the idea that “you pay people who have never been slaves with resources you take from people who have never owned slaves.” From a supply-side perspective, reparations were a punishment with no corrective potential, and from a demand-side perspective, they were a disincentive to personal empowerment, something else to make people dependent on the government.
“Slavery ended a long time ago. If you say we need to have that dialogue? Sure, I can get there,” he said, referring to the importance of learning history so it isn’t repeated. However, it was not just belittling but detrimental to use slavery as a “catalyst” to build public support for all kinds of radical social reforms.
A lot of reparations arguments, he says, assume all black people are poor. The narrative, he said, is used to create dependencies that are unhealthy because people should do what they can for themselves and not have government bailouts thrust upon them. Ali points to the 20% poverty rate of blacks in North Carolina and says, “That means 80% of blacks are doing just fine, and they don’t need reparations.”
Ali said those who are honestly seeking to empower black people who are downtrodden should help individuals learn a trade. He said the country was “losing a generation of—I’d like to say manual labor. That term is not demeaning although people try to make it. I’m talking about engineers, carpenters, and electricians.” He then referenced some quotes from Frederick Douglass.
“Our destiny is largely in our own hands. If we find, we shall have to seek. If we succeed in the race of life, it must be by our own energies and our own exertions. Others may clear the road, but we must go forward or be left behind in the race of life.”
“Our answer is, do nothing with them; mind your business, and let them mind theirs. What you are doing with them is their greatest misfortune. They have been undone by your doings, and all they now ask and really have need at your hands is just to let them alone.”
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
“We’re just getting out of Black History Month,” said Ali. People demonstrated they could say “cotton gin” and all the other talking points, but “nobody talked about the values needed to succeed in the context of actual systemic racism,” “actual” being the operative word. That’s the gap the Frederick Douglass Foundation is trying to fill.
Ali is particularly interested in voter education. One of the initiatives he hopes to bring to Asheville is called Think Before You Vote. He and his twin brother, with whom he co-owns TUC Media, came up with the slogan in an attempt to find something as catchy as Puff Daddy’s Vote or Die T-shirts.
Ali recalled having a former state senator on his Top of the Morning podcast. This particular senator used to get a lot of flak for not voting with his party. Ali asked him pointblank if it was true that Democrats “rely on people to be uninformed.” He said his guest looked uncomfortable and shifted in his seat, and he then said that as a Christian, he believed in telling the truth, and he was ashamed to have participated in that agenda.
From there, the conversation digressed to recollections of the buses that, for example, circled the UNC-Asheville campus. They were lined with photographs of Democratic candidates, and riders were given filled-out sample ballots. An exit poll conducted by a now-defunct local publication for one election found several Ashevillians could not recall for whom they voted. (See sidebar, “In Search of the Informed Electorate.”)
Asked what could be done to support his efforts, Ali mentioned the fdfnc.org website and said, “Call us, ask questions, inform people what Frederick Douglass stood for and the values that made him successful.” Asked if there was anything else he wanted to tell the readers, he said, “God bless.”
Tanzy Wallace is also interested in building bridges in Asheville. She’s in her third term as secretary for the FDFNC. She sets up tables at events, but more importantly, she serves as the historian for the organization. She said the African-American community, by and large, embraces the same wholesome values she does. She believes in parental choice in education, the inalienable right to life from womb to tomb, and free enterprise—values she sees as essential for strong and healthy communities.
But she believes something sinister started brewing around 1935 with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Great Society, and other programs. She sees these programs as having done little more than buy Democratic votes. “They try to steal our heritage,” she explained, and the process continues today with the 1619 project, a revisionist scheme that she says “tries to water down black history.”
“Black Lives Matter,” she said, “didn’t do anything for the black community. Follow the money.” She pointed to high-profile political actors hypocritically working the agenda behind the scenes. She was also “very concerned about reparations.” She said it was obvious: “The Black Lives Matter activists up there are being used as a tool.” With multiple references to the “gatekeepers” who were controlling the narratives, she said it was her job to bring truth and accurate information to the table.
Wallace is all about empowerment, not just for blacks but for everybody. She wants to see policies that lift people up and encourage them to learn the joy of striving, stretching, and overcoming to increase their potential for good—physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. As a Christian, she is confident there is more value in each of us than we realize.
Firmly believing in her mission to build bridges, Wallace spoke of the irony in the recent pop-media story about high-profile Marxist, feminist, and former Black Panther Angela Davis’ ancestors coming to America on the Mayflower. Wallace likes to say, “We may have come over here in different boats, but we’re all in the same boat now.” Her inspiration is palpable as she talks about people in Asheville setting aside their differences to build on the positive goals they share. “It will be a great thing.”
A local coalition is working with the FDFNC to bring the Douglass-Lincoln Debates to Asheville. The FDFNC’s Tanzy Wallace explained the play is intended as a slice of unrevisionist history. In response to naysayers who might ask rhetorically, “What is history?” she said the playwright, Douglas Miron, based the composition on the actual letters written by Abraham Lincoln.
Miron, of course, interpolated and extrapolated with dramatic license to turn everything into an accessible story. As such, the moral would be that, by coming together and searching for understanding, two people with dramatically different perspectives can make impactful headway, even for an entire nation.
According to the preview, “The play explores the originally fractious relationship between the two men as it develops over a two-year period. The intellectual and personal chemistry between the actors, both strong believers in classic American values and civil discourse, and both great admirers of Douglass and Lincoln, fuels the intensity of this historical re-creation.”
The play was recently performed in Cary at a dinner theater. Upon its conclusion, the floor was opened for a Q&A.
In Search of the Informed Electorate
While writing for the Mountain Guardian, Leslee Kulba conducted an exit poll days after the 2009 Asheville City Council election. The survey successfully interviewed 2% of voters, evenly distributed among five geographic sections. Polling consisted of cold-calling as a last resort, but most conversations were collected by door-knocking. In the interest of fairness, neighborhoods with long driveways could not be excluded for convenience. The rule was that willing participants who self-identified as voters would be interviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, with a maximum of one per household.
The first question, “For whom did you vote?” was optional. The other two questions were, “Why did you select the candidates for whom you voted?” and “What issues were important to you?”
A lot of people could not remember the answer to the first question. One man asked Kulba to wait while he found his cheat sheet. Some struggled to sound out their choices phonetically.
On the second question, answers were shallower than polemics. One voter replied, “Because [the other guy] is a @*%$.” Asked for elaboration, the voter said his friend said so. One of the most-repeated phrases went like this: “My dad was a Democrat, and his dad was a Democrat.”
For the third question, the most-repeated answer was, by far, “education.” The problem with this is that the only power the city council had over education was to appoint members of the Asheville City Schools board.
As the survey was drawing to a close, things were looking far bleaker than expected. The informed electorate had not been found when, while working in South Asheville, Kulba ran into Bill Fishburne out for his evening walk. Back then, Fishburne hosted a radio program, wrote for the Tribune, and was considered “the dean” of local politics. Rules were rules, so he was interviewed. While talking, Fishburne called out to his neighbor, who was sitting on his porch, to come take the survey. The neighbor was NC Senator Jesse Ledbetter.