Racism in the North: Frederick Douglass on “a vulgar and senseless prejudice,” 1870

A primary source by Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass to Thomas B. Pugh, November 17, 1870 (GLC01954)In 1870 Thomas Burnett Pugh, an ardent abolitionist prior to the Civil War, invited Frederick Douglass to participate in the “Star Course” lecture series he had organized at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. However, Douglass “learned with some surprise considering our recently improved civilization, that in servile deference to a vulgar and senseless prejudice against my long abused and proscribed people, the Directors of that popular Hall persist in refusing to allow it to be used for a lecture to which my race shall be admitted on terms of equality with others.” In this strongly worded letter refusing the speaking engagement, Douglass conveyed his disgust not only with the academy’s policy but also at the “intensity of [Philadelphia’s] wolfish hate and snobbish pride of race.”


I believe that the “City of Brotherly love” with its hundreds of Altars to the “Lamb of God” stands almost alone in the intensity of its wolfish hate and snobbish pride of race. It clung longer to proscription on its cars and other modes of travel than any other city of the North, and the “Jim Crow pew” is retained there more extensively than in any other place North of Mason and Dixon’s line. Nevertheless, I do not despair of speedy improvement, and can well afford to confine my labors to other towns and cities, until such time as shall bring more favorable conditions than the Christian, and enlightened Directors of the Academy of Music would impose.

A full transcript is available here.

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