LOVE ACROSS COLOR LINES by Maria Diedrich

LOVE ACROSS COLOR LINES

Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A breakthrough biography of Douglass’s private life, highlighting the fruitful and romantic relationship between the abolitionist and former slave and his German translator and companion. Diedrich is a professor of American studies at the University of MÅnster, Germany, and a fellow of Afro-American research at Harvard. She was well situated to do the spadework, as, without a witness to this love affair and with Assing and Douglass’s correspondence destroyed by the Victorian guardians of their legacies, all Diedrich had to work with were Assing’s German articles and prefaces. Ottilie Assing was a half-German, half-Jewish never-married woman whom Diedrich paints as having an unusually progressive background and personality for her time. She met Douglass as a foreign journalist in 1856 and maintained a serious relationship with him for 28 years, including summers at the Douglass home. She translated his autobiographies and was a major journalistic champion of his civil rights causes on the Continent. Assing read stories to Douglass’s children, and his wife didn—t seem to mind the two of them walking arm in arm on the streets of Rochester, N.Y. (Anna Murray Douglass had already suffered from her husband’s affair with another European woman.) Were Assing and Douglass lovers? Diedrich quotes Assing: “unmarried and yet united in a deeper love than many who are married.” The biographer cites other, German references to her lover that are clearer. When Rutherford B. Hayes became president in 1877, his ally Douglass was named marshal of the District of Columbia. The widowed Douglass could now marry Assing, but “his public triumph was defeat for her private ambitions.” Instead, he married his white secretary, 20 years his junior, and a brave romance turned into tragedy—Assing committed suicide. This is an important contribution to African-American studies and to the history of interracial relationships. (48 b&w illustrations, not seen).

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8090-1613-3
Page count: 458pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999




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