Douglass rejoiced in 1865 when the Union triumphed in the Civil War and the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever. But he did not believe his prophetic work had ended. At the end of his life, equality under the law remained an aspiration, not a reality. African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. The ghost of slavery lived on in oppressive economic arrangements like sharecropping. Jim Crow carved rigid lines of racial segregation in the public square. White mobs lynched at least 200 black men each year in the 1890s.
He had good reason, then, in 1889, to mourn how the “malignant prejudice of race” still “poisoned the fountains of justice, and defiled the altars of religion” in America. Yet Douglass also rejoiced in the continued possibility of redemption. A new way of seeing the world, and living in it, still remained—one that rested, Douglass said, on a “broad foundation laid by the Bible itself, that God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”