'Frederick Douglass' visits Annapolis High School ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY -- Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

February 19, 1993|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

The importance of education is not lost on Fred Morsell. He doesn't want it to be lost on students either.

Which is why Mr. Morsell dons a gray wig and beard, dark coat and tails, a gray vest concealing a pocket watch and a white shirt adorned with a string bow tie to become Frederick Douglass, escaped slave and abolitionist.

Mr. Morsell, 52, bought his traveling drama, "Presenting Mr. Frederick Douglass," to students at Annapolis High School yesterday. The visit was part of the school's celebration of Black History Month.

Since 1984, Mr. Morsell -- a native of New York now living near Yellowstone National Park in Montana -- has been performing as Frederick Douglass at schools and churches across the country. He said he portrays Mr. Douglass because the abolitionist was able to rise above the pain of slavery and start a new life.

He urged the Annapolis students to value their education, because education is power. "When you learn to think for yourself, you can learn your own future," he said. "You can become the master of your fate."

When Mr. Morsell is performing, it can be difficult to tell where hends and Frederick Douglass begins. "I began lecturing in 1841," Mr. Morsell said, standing first in the center of the stage, then walking through the aisles of the auditorium talking to students.

"My life began in slavery," he said. "I was surprised to hear of thabolitionist who referred to the lives of slavery and its [horror]. But they could not refer you to a back covered with scars. My blood sprang out as the lash embedded itself in my back."

Mr. Morsell spent an hour with the students, detailing the life of Mr. Douglass.

"I have no accurate knowledge of my age," he said. "I do not know a slave who knows what day or hour they were born. A slave knew as little of their age as a horse knows of its age. It was not important to record such information."

Mr. Morsell said Douglass was able to place his date of birtaround the time of February 1817. He knew his mother was a slave by the name of Harriet Bailey, and that his father was their white master.

Separated almost at birth from his mother, he was raised by higrandparents. His grandmother's job was to raise small children until they were old enough to work.

"I lived with my grandmother for 6 1/2 years," Mr. Morsell said. "She said to me one day, 'We're going for a walk.' I did not think anything of it, for we went for many walks. But this time we walked for a long time. We walked all morning, all afternoon, until we reached the Chesapeake Plantation."

Douglass taught himself to read and write by copying notebooks and bribing the poor, white children he met in the streets with bread from his wealthy master's home.

A group of Annapolis Elementary School fourth grade studentwatched Mr. Morsell's presentation along with the high school students. His message was not lost on them.

"I knew he was a slave," said Kumar Sanders, 9, "but I think he was trying to teach us about learning."

"He taught us about thinking for ourselves and not lettinanybody tells us what we can't do," Menyur Simms, 9, said.

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