FACT CHECK: Did Frederick Douglass Say, ‘It Is Easier To Build Strong Children Than To Repair Broken Men’?
An image shared on the Facebook page Coffee Party USA claimed that abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
“We need to think about this before allowing our lawmakers to cut funding for public schools, food stamps, and other programs that have given generations of kids the chance to rise above their circumstances and reach their full potential,” the caption reads.
The Daily Caller found no evidence of Douglass ever saying this quote. He did ask in one of his works, “Once thoroughly broken down, who is he that can repair the damage?”
Douglass, a well-known orator and statesman who fought for the abolition of slavery, was a prolific writer and highly quotable. However, the quote in the image cannot be attributed to him with any certainty.
Neither the quote nor any variation of it appears in Douglass’ collected writings, including his 1845 memoir. New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow, among others, have attributed the quote to Douglass without any citation.
The Caller spoke with two professors who have studied the life of Douglass extensively and neither could identify it as genuine. “I have never found it in any Douglass speech or writing. I regard it as apocrypha,” Professor Jack Kaufman-McKivigan of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis told the Caller in an email.
The closest quotation the Caller could find was in Douglass’ “My Bondage and My Freedom,” where he asked, “Once thoroughly broken down, who is he that can repair the damage?”
William Cheng, an associate professor at Dartmouth University, researched the quote as well, finding a handful of newspaper articles circulating the expression between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s. The earliest instances he could find of the quote being attributed to Douglass was from a 1994 advertisement.