May 17, 1881: Frederick Douglass Becomes Recorder of Deeds for Washington D.C.

1 Posted by - June 25, 2021 - BLACK MEN, POLITICS, RECONSTRUCTION

On this day in Black history, orator and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass became the first recorder of deeds for Washington D.C.

In the years prior to taking the position, Douglass was very active with his speeches and writing. The orator also took a number of positions and was involved in different projects. He was with the failed Freedman’s Savings Bank a decade earlier and was its last president. He also ran a newspaper—which ended the same year the Freedman’s Savings Bank went bankrupt.



In politics and governance, Douglass worked for the U.S’ diplomacy efforts abroad—particularly in the Caribbean. He was often in some leadership or ambassador role that made use of his speaking, diplomacy and writing abilities.

Taking different government postings worked for Douglass since they often weren’t dramatically different from each other.  He could also engage in public speaking when he felt. The one role that was very different from the others was the time he spent as U.S. Marshall.

It should also be noted that this was a time when Black people were put in civil service positions very often by a Republican controlled government. Black civil servants were met with mixed reactions from the Black community.

Many roles were vital to getting Black politicians in a position of power. This allowed them to impact policy to help in the betterment of Black life. However, there were roles that were perceived as placeholders or feel good roles for Republicans.



His posting as Recorder of Deeds went through the Senate 47-8 on May 17, 1881. It was something of a departure from the more active positions he’d taken before. In some ways, it was similar to another posting he’d taken four years earlier as U.S. Marshall.

The nature Frederick Douglass’ role as Recorder of Deeds is documented, but not really discussed for two main reasons. It isn’t a role that heralds great deeds since tasks were similar to those of a county clerk. Also, Douglass had a tendency to stay at a post for a short period before being given another. This role put him in direct contact with those he wanted to help the most. Douglass would step down as Recorder of Deeds in 1886 to resume speaking full time.



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