Frederick Douglass: The King of Coins


In honor of our Black History Month Promotion, I am sharing chapters about the black writers in The American Renaissance Tarot which have not yet been illustrated as Tarot cards.  Below please find my essay about how Douglass fits the archetype of the King of Coins via the wealth, position, and property he acquired by the end of his life.

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Frederick Douglass:

The King of Coins

Douglass's estate at Cedar Hill

Douglass's estate at Cedar Hill

Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895) is the King of Coins for the American Renaissance Tarot.  He [will be] pictured at his sizable estate in Washington D.C., “Cedar Hill,” where he lived the last fifteen years of his life.  Douglass’s 21-room mansion still stands on Cedar Hill, but the card image places him before the small brick outbuilding where he liked to retreat when he wanted privacy; he called it his “Growlery.”  The one-room structure calls to mind the words of the twentieth-century writer, Virginia Woolf, who wrote that in order for womens’ writing to flourish, they required privacy and a “room of one’s own.”  Similarly, African-American literary culture has developed in direct proportion to housing access, work opportunities, the availability of education, and other basic rights.  Material and financial security, far from being traps, purchase both a social independence and the freedom to express oneself candidly.

The reconstructed Growlery at Cedar Hill

The reconstructed Growlery at Cedar Hill

The rustic scene depicted on the card is not a celebration of austerity, but rather land ownership.  Douglass owned several properties around the nation’s Capital, and when he died, his estate was valued at $100,000, more than the legacies of the other three American Renaissance Tarot Kings combined, and what would be over a million dollars today.  The King of Coins knows that in order to grow something, you must first put down roots.  After purchasing Cedar Hill, Douglass transported some of the dirt from an ancient cedar tree abutting his grandmother’s slave cabin in Maryland to his opulent new home in Washington, thereby honoring the family traditions that had contributed to his staggering success.  Douglass believed that financial stability in the form of real property would be the only guarantor of civic equality during the uncertain period of Reconstruction, and he regularly encouraged the newly freed African-Americans to invest in land and become home-owners:

We should get married, rear children, love them, and secure a home.  Let us have more staying qualities … This is our home.  Let us stay here.  We won’t go to Hayti, we won’t go to Liberia, we won’t go to Mexico.  This country cannot get rid of us in that way.  This country had our services when we were slaves, and now that we are free we will compel the government to make good citizens of us.

Douglass in his library at Cedar Hill

Douglass in his library at Cedar Hill

If you’ve drawn the King of Coins, you or someone else is a pillar of your community, a majestic “Cedar of Lebanon” who has achieved both physical and spiritual mastery (see the Ten of Coins).  If a King of Coins is standing in your way, it’s a safe bet that at least part of his power flows from accumulated capital.  Alternately, you may be a King of Coins even if you’re not particularly wealthy, if you have your feet planted firmly on the ground and understand that to grow a garden, you must first have a plot!   The halved apple in Douglass’s hand, with its natural pentagon formation, symbolizes this earthy wisdom.  Douglass himself, however, makes the point best when addressing his community’s hierarchy of needs:

We want natural things before we want the spiritual.  When the child first comes into the world it don’t cry for metaphysics or theology, but for a little milk.  When I go to my bedroom I don’t want to find a pane of glass out of the window and an old hat stuck in.  What I want is a comfortable place to sleep.  Take care of the body is what we need to be taught.

in a reading

The masculine face of …
Survival         Stability          Tradition           Growth          Mastery

You or someone else is (a/n):
Capricorn*              Property-Owner          Wealthy                 Successful
Father                  Leader                  Law Enforcement Officer
Politician                      Public Speaker                  Arborist

*Born a slave, Frederick Douglass did not know his birthday or age.  I assigned the “Capricorn" archetype to him based on his life experience of overcoming adversity to achieve material success.  My general idea with this interpretive guide was to overlay the personal qualities of the writer onto traditional Tarot card associations.  


Cedar Hill viewed from the street