A very interesting piece in today's Washington Post about Frederick I. Douglas—a man who has been portraying abolitionist Frederick Douglass for two decades. When he's not delivering speeches in period costume, he's selling Frederick I. Douglass Wass Dis-Here Barbecue Sauce.
Douglas, of Baltimore, says he is a great-great-grandson of the great abolitionist, although some historians and documented Douglass descendants dispute his claim.
Douglas insists that he was born with the name Frederick I. Douglass IV. Explaining why he has not always used IV, Douglas says there was "not a need to use it. People use different things over the years. . . . I just did not use it. I didn't use it at that point in time."He has also added an extra "s" to his surname since graduating from college.
In a 2001 letter, he claimed descent from Douglass' grandson Charles. Having learned that that Charles Douglass died at the age of 16 without issue, he now says that his grandfather was a different Charles—the illegitimate elder brother of the Charles who died.
Historians who specialize in Frederick Douglass say they have never heard of an illegitimate grandson. Douglas has provided no proof. [Link]