In the July 21 Metro story about the 315 paint samples taken from the Frederick Douglass house in an effort to get the colors for the house exactly right, no mention was made of the heart of the house -- the Douglass library.

When I visited the house several years ago, its many shelves were empty. The park ranger said that damp conditions in the house had damaged Douglass's books, and they had been removed. The dampness problem had been remedied, but the books were still in storage at the National Archives because there were no funds for their restoration.

It was deeply disturbing to see those bare shelves in the home of a man for whom words -- reading them, writing them, speaking them with fire -- were his life. Douglass struggled for the chance to read, and his childhood Webster's Speller was a second Bible. He later stirred millions with his words.

Who cares whether his house is painted white or brown? Do we want visitors, especially children, to think more about whether the colors are 1890 trendy than about Douglass's deepest values and contributions?

No doubt Douglass was conscious of his middle-class status, as his descendant says, but what about his international status as a thinker and shaper of men's and women's understanding?




Regarding the time-consuming research by the U.S. Park Service to determine the colors of Cedar Hill, the one-time home of Frederick Douglass:

Park Service architectural conservator Barbara A. Yocum has proclaimed that the house should be painted brown because it was painted brown, for a time, during Douglass's stewardship. But the house has been white for 40 years. What is wrong with that?

I am a preservationist, but I'm also a realist. Buildings do not exist in a vacuum. As my mother says, "All things flow, nothing abides."

My home was built in 1948, but I'm not about to repaint the interior trim the strange blue-green shade I see every time I nick the woodwork just because that's the color my grandfather chose 50 years ago.

I'm sure the Park Service's notion is that if Frederick Douglass were somehow return to his house today, he would recognize his paint scheme. Well, the neighborhood has changed and developed so much since his death, he probably wouldn't find his house if he tried.


University Park