- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

D.C. elementary school students yesterday celebrated the 190th birthday of Frederick Douglass at his first home in the District, where they watched a Douglass reenactor tell his story of abolition and ambition.

“My Grandmammy Betsy called me her valentine,” reenactor Fred Morsell said, acting as Douglass. “So I thought by calling me her valentine, perhaps my birthday was on Valentine’s Day. I do not know that for a fact, but it’s a guess.”

More than 30 fourth- and fifth-graders from Our Lady of Victory School in Northwest sat on the floor of the Douglass Museum and listened to Mr. Morsell describe Douglass’ life as a slave and an abolitionist.

Students such as Daniel Gomez, 10, put up their hands to ask Mr. Morsell questions while he spoke. Mr. Morsell, wearing a gray wig that matched his thick beard, often left pauses in his sentences so the students could shout out words that fit the spaces.

Mr. Morsell told Douglass’ story for almost two hours before students and guests sang “Happy Birthday” to Douglass, and the reenactor blew out dozens of candles on a big white cake.

Harriet Fink, 11, said the presentation was “really lifelike — so you could get his point of view.” She said her class studied Black History Month. Her fifth-grade teacher, Emily Beck, said the class had read a short biography of Douglass.

Nine-year-old Aimee Macatangay said she learned that Douglass fought against slavery.

“I liked it when he pretended to play hide-and-seek with his grandma,” she said.

Mr. Morsell said he has acted as the historical figure for 24 years. He memorized about four hours of Douglass material and said he caters presentations to audiences of all ages, noting that the life of Douglass teaches young people a “profound lesson” and gives them a “profound example.”

“The role of Douglass is not as celebrated as it should be, and it’s a part of our purpose to get his story out and inspire young people to follow his example of caring,” said Val Halamandaris, founder and executive director of the Caring Institute, which shares a building with the Douglass Museum.

The Caring Institute honors 10 Americans each year who make significant differences in the lives of others. Photographs, portraits and biographical sketches of these “Caring Americans” fill a Hall of Fame in Douglass’ home.

Located a block east of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on A Street in Northeast, the walls of the museum hold a document signed by Abraham Lincoln and a document signed by Douglass’ one-time owner. The Smithsonian Institution lent Frederick Douglass’ desk to the museum, and other Douglass or era-specific artifacts fill the museum.

Mr. Halamandaris founded the Caring Institute after Mother Teresa prompted him to “do something about the poverty of spirit in the United States,” he said.

To respond to her challenge, Mr. Halamandaris decided to “honor people who are large in spirit,” he said.

“There’s nothing more caring than Frederick Douglass in his actions.”

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