Review: ‘Bill Moyers’ Journal Meet Mr. Frederick Douglass’

Host: Bill Moyers.

Host: Bill Moyers.

Aremounting of the 1894 “Lesson of the Hour” speech by black leader Frederick Douglass should be required watching for anyone trying to put racial problems into perspective. With actor Fred Morsell standing on the pulpit of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in D.C., where the words were first spoken, Douglass’ thoughts ring out as resoundingly as they must have 100 years ago. A striking TV event, it’s up against stiff competish — the Olympics — so viewership seems limited.

Morsell does not declaim, instead delivers a judicious, angry series of accounts of the position of the black in the American scene and of white America’s actions. The words rise up under Joseph Camp’s intelligent direction, and the points come across with a bang.

The protests about lynchings in the post-Civil War South, where a single accusation hangs a man, and the examination of why whites kill blacks are thoughtfully turned over as Douglass looks into such white American “solutions” as sending American black colonists to Africa. As for white mob rule, “The mob is its law, the mob is its judge, the mob is its jury, and the mob is its executioner.”

Douglass includes women’s rights in his speech, and the audience at the church is dressed in modern clothes to emphasize the timelessness of his message. The program is kept simple.

Camp discreetly moves his camera around to sustain interest, and Morsell’s appearance is prefaced with grim photos of lynched, burned blacks. They punctuate what Douglass has to say a century later.

Bill Moyers' Journal Meet Mr. Frederick Douglass

(Fri. (18), 9-10 p.m., PBS)


Taped at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C., by Public Affairs TV. Exec producer, Judy Doctoroff O'Neill; producer, Betsy McCarthy; director, Joseph Camp; theme


Music, Michael Bacon.


With: Fred Morsell.
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