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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Meeting a hero

I wrote this in 2007 for a now-defunct political blog, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision. I saw actor Fred Morsell portray Frederick Douglass at the St. Louis Old Courthouse as part of city-wide events.
(Douglass (left) as he appeared in about middle age, and Morsell today. Douglass' picture is from the Library of Congress, and Morsell's is from his web site.)

March 7, 2007
Today, I met one of my heroes in the flesh.

Well, sort of.

As some of you may know, one of my heroes is Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist and fighter for civil rights. Over lunch today, I watched actor Fred Morsell portray Douglass in a one-man presentation at St. Louis’ Old Courthouse as part of the 150th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision.

Morsell gave what was undoubtedly a typical speech for Douglass, telling the story of his early life as a slave. It was an amazingly powerful performance: Convincing, gut-wrenching, funny, sober, awe-inspiring, transforming, beautiful… I hated having to return to work before he was finished.

Morsell has been portraying Douglass since 1988. Last year I read William McFeely’s unsatisfying biography on the famed abolitionist, but Morsell gives a living biography of Douglass.

WOW! What a performance!

If you ever get a chance to see him perform as Douglass, you’re in for a real treat — and something that will stick with you for a long time. (It’s very similar to Hal Holbrook’s turns as Mark Twain, and Sam Waterston’s as Abraham Lincoln.)

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