Anne Weaver Teabeau, great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass, the black slave, abolitionist, and writer, stood yet another time for another photographer in front of the huge Douglass portrait in her Northwest Washington dining room. She smiled ruefully, and sighed, "Oh, I'll be glad when it's all over."
When Anne Weaver Teabeau, now in her 70s, was young, her mother and her aunt made all the speeches and went to all the dedications. "They said to me," she recalls, "'you better listen to all this. You'll be the next one called on.'"
They were right.
The term-paper writers call to ask what he was like. The clubs invite her to black history week programs. She's been known to try to leave town to avoid some appearances.
But mostly she is polite, and she talks to them all.
"It's a sense of duty," she said.
So with a sense of duty -- but certainly pleasure, too -- she stepped into the limousine that carried her and the other two surviving direct descendants of Douglass -- her brothers Frederick and William Weaver -- to Ford's Theatre last night for the ceremonial presentation of the newly edited and published "The Frederick Douglass Papers," the work of Yale Prof. John W. Blassingame.
Together, Teabeau and her brothers sat in the front row of Ford's Theater last night, with academics and others, listening to the parade of people across the stage praising Douglass. They were Blassingame; Mary Berry, HEW assistant secretary; Joseph Duffey, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (which gave Blassingame the bulk of the money to research and write his book, the first of 14 volumes); actress Ruby Dee; and actor William Marshall, who gave a dramatic reading from Douglass' speeches.
"Frederick Douglass was a fugitive slave who became an adviser to presidents, a diplomat in Haiti. He was an orator, a writer, a government official and a critic of government administration as well -- a true American hero for civil rights," said Berry, who called the publication of the papers "a major historical event."
Each of the great-grandchildren was presented with leather-bound copies of the book, and Blassingame noted that Teabeau had followed in Douglass' footsteps in her earlier days of teaching school.
"I just don't want to give the impression that I'm seeking all this," said Teabeau, whose mother, Estelle Sprague Weaver, told her never flaunt the family connection -- "'don't say anything,'" Teabeau remembers her mother saying. "'Just be yourself and be good.'"
But that hasn't stopped Teabeau from being protective both of the Douglass memorabilia that she prizes and the right to be a Douglass.
"I've never written on his name," she said. "I've thought the relation was too distant. But other people have taken advantage of it -- even the furthest down-the-line in-laws." She sat back in her chair, chuckling at one such incident in the past.
Much of the memorabilia is in the Museum of African Art -- housed in Douglass' former A Street, NE mansion -- the Howard University library, the Library of Congress, and the Frederick Douglass home atop a hill in Southeast Washington.
The portrait of a contemplative Douglass that now hangs in Teabeau's dining room is something she refused to let any museum have.
She also has letters and pamphlets that she had either given to libraries or loaned out. "I'm having a time getting back some pictures and articles," he said.
She has jewelry, one pin given to Douglass when he was commissioner in Santo Domingo. He gave it to his first wife, mother of his children, and then it was handed down to daughters, with carefully written notes explaining the history of the piece.
And, she is the informal purveyor of the family history. "Douglass was in his 60s when he married his second wife, Helen Pitts. She was the daughter of a senator and she was white. It bothered people. Rosetta [Douglass, his daughter] didn't like it. But when white women set their caps after black men, those women go after them," said Teabeau, laughing.
"It seems like that's the only thing blacks know about Frederick Douglass," said Teaubeau, growing serious. "'oh, he was married to a white woman,' they'll say. I have to take it a lot."
Teabeau lives in a red brickhouse on Arkansas Ave. NW, that she keeps meticulously neat. The sofas are covered in plastic, the buffet is dust free, with beautiful family-owned china and crystal set out for display. Some of Douglass' own books are kept in lattice-worked bookshelves. She, herself, is perfectly dressed in a fashionable maroon print dress, with pearl earrings, gold bracelets, an amethyst ring and amethyst beads. Her grey hair is softly curled. Her nails are painted red.
She will not tell her exact age. "This fellow DeForrest [Robert DeForrest, a historical consultant for the ceremony last night] said 'I can figure it out.' I said, 'Well, you do. I don't want to talk about it.'"
Born of teachers in Gloucester County, Va., she graduated from Wilberforce University in Ohio. For the past 18 years, she has lived in Washington. From Douglass on, as one might expect, her family is well educated, many having gone to college. Her grandmother, Rosetta Douglass Sprague, went to Oberlin College, according to Teabeau.
She appears the epitome of the traditional middle-class black woman from a prominent family -- married to a now-deceased dentist (her sisters all married doctors), a member of the Links, the exclusive traditional black women's club, past president of the group's New Orleans and Washington chapters.
She abhors any reference to it. She pulled Stephen Birmingham's book "Certain People, America's Black Elite" off her shelf and paged through it. "When I read this, I was mad as the devil," she said. "He said I was part of Washington's old guard."
For the rest of her life, she would perhaps prefer that only the term-paper writers and the historians know that she is Douglass' great-granddaughter. And, of course, the mailman. "I had been getting a lot of mail from the Douglass home, and finally one day the postman said, 'I heard you were related to Frederick Douglass? Is that true?' I said, 'It's true.' He smiled and said, 'Well, that's fine.'"