A photo album can appear to be a random collection of images, until we discover some important context. With this, we might uncover the logic of those who assembled them. In this essay, Marie Georger explains how she found a connection between Arabella Chapman and the image of Frederick Douglass.
It’s Friday, late afternoon, and I find myself glancing through the Arabella Chapman Photo album while compiling information about my research project. Then I stop. On page 19 of Album I is a photo of Frederick Douglass. Why? What makes Frederick Douglass so interesting that he gained a spot in this rare album. My uncanny thinking process wants me to pursue this more. But how?
First, I browsed the internet to find some suitable background information. I remembered that Douglass was as a counter-example to slaveholders’ claims that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to serve as American citizens. Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant.He did not want people to have to suffer the hardships that he encountered when he was a slave. Sitting at my computer I reflected on these thoughts. I take into account the heated discussion that we had in class on Thursday. How did Frederick Douglass portray himself and why did he sometimes oppose other abolitionists? It took me some time, but then I realized what Douglass likely meant to the Chapman family.
I believe that Douglass gave the Chapmans hope. He escaped slavery, and was able to fight for what he believed. Arabella and her family lived in a small city, Albany New York. As historian Marian Hughes explains, Arabella fought during her childhood as an African American girl. She was one of the smartest children at her school as was evident from her spelling bee victory at around age 7. A few years later, at fourteen, Arabella was tested against other students, black and white, in algebra, spelling, geography, and grammar. She did so well on the test that she became the first African American to attend what is today Albany High School. This did not come as a surprise to Arabella. She knew what she was capable of.
— Marie Georger