From Oakland to Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts I Go, in Search of Frederick Douglass

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my fifth philosophical-historical themed adventure, beginning with research and study in Oakland, CA, then off to Baltimore, MD, New York, Washington DC, and other East Coast sites to follow in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass’s life story is inspiring and humbling in the strength, character, and dazzling intellect he reveals, rising to such greatness in the midst of such adversity. Born a slave on the eastern shore of Maryland in the early 1800’s, he was an autodidact, having overheard his master say that learning to read leads to learning to think, rendering a slave too independent-minded to submit to domination by another. Hearing this, young Frederick knew what he had to do. Attaining literacy and learning a skilled trade gave him the wherewithal to escape to New York City in 1838 at about 20 years of age. A few years later, as a result of an impromptu but impassioned and eloquent speech about the hardships of a life enslaved, he was recruited as a public speaker for the abolitionist cause. He spent the rest of his life as an activist for all manner of human rights causes, from the abolition of slavery to universal suffrage to women’s rights and beyond.

Douglass is an especially compelling subject for a historian-philosopher; observing the true nature and ramifications of slavery led him to think deeply about the most essential questions in human life, which, in turn, spurred him on to a life of thought and action on behalf of oppressed peoples. In these roles, Douglass had a heavy influence on American thought and on the course of American history. He asked, and answered: What does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to be a person of faith? What are rights, and why are we entitled to them? What is dignity, and does possessing it entail that we have certain obligations to ourselves and others? Given the frailties and strengths of human nature, how can we best live together and form just societies? What do the Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence really say about slavery, equality, and other human rights issues?

So I’ll begin my tale here in my home city of Oakland, CA, where I begin my research and exploration into Douglass’s life and ideas, then off to the east coast of the United States I’ll go, from March 19th thru April 2nd! There, I’ll visit landmarks associated with his life, places where he lived and died, worked, thought, wrote, studied, and rested, to see for myself how the places informed the man, and vice versa.

~ Listen to the podcast version of this series intro here or on iTunes

Here is the story of Frederick Douglass as I discover him:
Traveling Philosophy Series: Frederick Douglass Edition, Prologue, Oakland, CA
Frederick Douglass on Faith and Doubt
Frederick Douglass on the Constitution
Frederick Douglass the Pragmatist
Frederick Douglass Baltimore Sites
Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace, Maryland’s Eastern Shore Sites Part 1
Frederick Douglass, Easton and St. Michaels, Maryland’s Eastern Shore Sites Part 2
Frederick Douglass Havre de Grace and Philadelphia Sites
Frederick Douglass New York City Sites
Frederick Douglass New Bedford, Massachusetts Sites
Frederick Douglass Boston Sites
Frederick Douglass Lynn, Massachusetts Sites
Frederick Douglass Lynn Sites, Part 2: Historical Society & Hutchinson Scrapbook
Frederick Douglass Albany, Troy, and Syracuse NY Sites
Interview with Leigh Fought on Anna and Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass Rochester NY Sites, Day 1
Frederick Douglass, Rochester NY Sites Day 2
Interview with Ken Morris, Anti-Slavery Activist & Descendant of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass Seneca Falls, Canandaigua, Honeoye, and Mt Hope Cemetery Sites
Frederick Douglass Chambersburg and Gettysburg PA Sites
Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Day 1, Part 1
Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Day 1, Part 2
Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Last Day

More about Frederick Douglass:

Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, And Abraham Lincoln, Part 1
Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, And Abraham Lincoln, Part 2
Peoria, Illinois, in Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 3
Photobook: Frederick Douglass and Edinburgh, Old and New
O.P. Recommends: ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That: Frederick Douglass in Scotland’ by Andrea Baker for BBC Radio 4
Say What? Frederick Douglass on Originalist Interpretations of the United States Constitution
O.P. Recommends: Frederick Douglass’ Drunk History Episode
Say What? Frederick Douglass on Race Relations
Citizenship, Belonging, and the Experiences of Amero-Africans in West Africa: An Analysis of William Innes’ Early History of Liberia

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Patrons of the Frederick Douglass series: RH Kennerly, Elizabeth Lenz, Alex Levin, Cory Argonti Cools, Bryan Kilgore, Michael Burke, Gaia So, Veronica Ruedrich, Blair Miller, Alex Black, Devin Cecil-Wishing, Roxanne and Fred Smalkin and family, and Jim Callahan and Nerissa Callahan-Stiles and family. ~ With warmest gratitude, thank you!

Review: Sweet Bar Bakery

Found another new cafe with wi-fi, plenty of space to write, and an excellent assortment of tasty treats; and apparently, so have many other others! This rainy afternoon drove a lot of people indoors, but I was still able to find a great window seat, of which there are many. They offer a bottomless cup of coffee for two bucks, perfect for those like me who intend to stay awhile, and I started with a delicious slice of apple crumble pie with whipped cream. The coffee is good, the pie better, and people behind the counter were even sweeter than the pie. And while the people who work here and who frequent this establishment, the warm and friendly atmosphere give it a significant advantage to a certain way-too-cool-for-you vibe of another nearby one which will remain unnamed, though you locals may easily guess.

Besides pies, cakes, cookies, and other sweets, they have plenty of savory snacks and smaller meals to choose from, too.

All around, a tasty experience, highly recommended! I got one of those stamp cards where you can earn a free drink, since I’ll most definitely be back.

Who: Sweet Bar Bakery
What and Why: Baked sweets and savories, coffee, tea, soup, pizza, and more
Where: 2355 Broadway, Oakland CA 94612 
When: Mon – Fri 8am – 8pm, Sat 8am – 7pm, Sun 9am -7 pm

Review: Tierra Mia Coffee

Rode a different way from work today, in hopes of stumbling across a new coffee shop to try out, in my ongoing search of homey, comfy, friendly places to sip and munch while I write, complete with wi-fi. away from the distractions of home.                                                            I’ve been finding this search to be a challenge, since it seems the trend in coffee shops is sleek, overpriced establishments with an edgy, painfully hip, even clinical feel, where apparently it’s a job requirement for baristas to give the distinct impression that they’re too cool for you and everyone else. And these cafes are usually filled to the rafters with affected self-conscious hipster types who pose together, coldly looking you up and down as you enter to see if you’re wearing one of five or so approved hipster uniforms, and that it passes muster.                                                                                   Fortunately, I discovered that the new coffee shop I stumbled upon today, Tierra Mia Coffee, is decidedly not one of these places. It’s roomy and airy, with high ceilings, classic European-style decor, plenty of seating, and a straightforward selection of classic espresso drinks and pastries, along with a wide assortment of pour-over specialty coffees to choose from. Not cheap, but not too expensive either. My mocha Mexicana was rich and delicious, though I was disappointed that it arrived in a paper cup. They do have mugs, you just have to remember to specifically request one. 
The clientele was refreshingly diverse, people from various age groups, socioeconomic statuses, and personal styles, like a cosmopolitan city downtown cafe, just on a smaller scale. That’s how I like it.
I would have stayed longer, but the wi-fi was glitchy. I didn’t hold that against them, though, it’s a common problem that I’m sure they’ll fix soon. I’ll be back next time I need a place to write when I’m in Uptown Oakland..

Who, What, Why, How:

Where: 2001 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

When: Mon – Thu 6:30 am – 8:00 pm Fri 6:30 am – 9:00 pm Sat – Sun 8:00 am – 8:00 pm

Perhaps I’ll see you there sometime!

Review: Farley’s East

I love to write essays, and I also have the tendency to be easily distracted by having all the comforts and hobbies of home surrounding me, as well as the tendency to justify laziness after a day at work. Therefore, to avoid stopping off at home, I’m often on the hunt to find a workspace, a great coffee-shop / cafe that’s more or less on my way from work to the hills for my early evening hike, a place that’s homey, friendly, reasonably priced, has tasty small meals and snacks, and has wi-fi. 

Farley’s East has just joined the list of my favorite such places. 
Who, What, Why, How:
Where: 33 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94612
When: Mon – Fri 7:00 am – 9:00 pm Sat – Sun 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
Perhaps I’ll see you there!

Review: Modern Coffee in Downtown Oakland

Just for fun, I’ve decided to start writing little reviews of coffeeshops and other venues I visit to work on my writing. This is the first in the series.


coffee of the day & a brownie at Modern Coffee

Coffee Shop: Modern Coffee, downtown Oakland

What I had: mug of house coffee (the chalkboard identifies it as ‘Streetlevel’) and a brownie

Prices: totally reasonable

Decor: Sleek, modern, large windows

WiFi: Yes, and no time limit

Seating: Ample for the size of the shop

Would I come back: Yes!

A lovely, tall, blonde woman with a friendly (direct, not gushing) manner was at the counter, and it was a lovely start to my visit. The coffee is delicious, strong but not overly so, of the earthy, chocolately sort I like. (The trend in Bay Area coffee shops over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed, has been to serve coffee of the tart, even sour variety, which I detest, but which is popular with the aficionados, I hear.) The brownie is tasty, of the lighter cake-y sort, and tastes like a cross between a classic homemade chocolate cake and a brownie

Piece I’m working on: Anxiety-Depression: An Experiential Account