Respect and Self-Respect
From Frederick Douglas
“One thought more before I leave this subject, and it is a thought I wish you all to lay to heart. Practice it yourselves and teach it to your children. It is this: neither we, nor any other people, will ever be respected till we respect ourselves, and we will never respect ourselves till we have the means to live respectably. An exceptionally poor and dependent people will be despised by the opulent and despise themselves.
“You cannot make an empty sack stand on end. A race which cannot save its earnings, which spends all it makes and goes in debt when it is sick, can never rise to the scale of civilization, no matter under that laws it may chance to be. Put us in Kansas or in Africa, and until we learn to save more than we spend, we are sure to sink and perish. It is not in the nature of things that we should be equally rich in this world’s goods. Some will be more successful than others and poverty, in many cases is the result of misfortune rather than of crime; but no race can afford to have all its members the victims of this misfortune, without being considered a worthless race. Pardon me, therefore, for urging upon you, my people, the importance of saving your earnings; of denying yourselves in the present, that you may have something in the future, of consuming less for yourselves that your children may have a start in life when you are gone.
“With money and property comes the means of knowledge and power. A poverty-stricken class will be an ignorant and despised class, and no amount of sentiment can make it otherwise. This part of our destiny is in our hands. Every dollar you lay up represents one day’s independence, one day of rest and security for the future. If the time shall ever come when we shall possess in the colored people of the United States, a class of men noted for enterprise, industry, economy, and success, we shall no longer have any trouble in the matter of civil and political rights. The battle against popular prejudice will have been won, and, in common with all other races and colors, we shall have an equal chance in the race of life.”
Frederick Douglass, The Most Complete Collection of His Written Works & Speeches, Original Copyright 1881, 1845-1895, 1855, 1845, Northpointe Classics. On line the speech can be found at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Life_and_Times_of_Frederick_Douglass_(1892)/Chapter_41
© Joseph L. Bass, EdD, May 2020