Here is the familiar final version, as published in 1966 and thereafter, via the Poetry Foundation:
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
The 1947 version was published in the February, 1947 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It looks like this:The differences are more striking--much more striking--when you compare the 1947 version to the first published version of "Frederick Douglass," from 1945. It's quoted in full in Robert Chrisman's essay "Robert Hayden: the Transition Years, 1946-1948." Evidently it was originally published as part of "Five Americans: a Sequence from The Black Spear," which appeared in "Lewis B. Martin's short-lived monthly, Headlines and Pictures, in May, 1945" (Chrisman, 133); the other four sonnets in the sequence were about William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. As you'll see, this "Frederick Douglass" bears almost no resemblance to the ones which followed:
III. Frederick Douglass
Such men are timeless, and their lives are levers
that lift the crushing dark away like boulders.
Death cannot silence them, nor history,
suborned or purchased like the harlot’s crass
endearments, expatriate them. Like negatives
held to the light, their weaknesses reveal
our possible strength. Their power proves us godly,
and by their stripes are we made whole in purpose.
Douglass, O colossus of our wishI'll leave discussion of the poem's evolution to you and your students. You might also want to fold in some of the available audio of the poem: Hayden's reading on the Poetry Foundation website (linked above); the Poetry Out Loud performances on YouTube, etc. It's a fine poem for a 10-week class.
and allegory of us all, one thinks
of you as shipwrecked voyagers think of
an island. Breasting waters mined with doubt
and error, we struggle toward your dream of man
unchained, of man permitted to be man.