Sunday, March 9, 2014

Frederick Douglass Biography

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

v     Frederick Douglass was a slave, a writer, a preacher, a social reformer, and a politician.

v     He was a leader of the abolitionist movement in America to end slavery, and supported equal rights for all, including women, immigrants, native Americans, and minorities. Specifically, he argued for the right to vote, desegregation in schools, and the right for blacks to fight in the Civil War.

v     As a brilliant speaker and writer he proved that black slaves had the intelligence to function as free citizens.

v     Frederick wrote three autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of F.D., My Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times of F.D.

v     Douglass also published an abolitionist  newspaper titled, The North Star.

v     His greatest speech was titled, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”

v     He was even nominated Vice President (without his knowledge or consent) by the Equal Rights Party, a small political party, in 1872.

v     There are several schools named after Frederick Douglass.

v     Yale University offers the Frederick Douglass Book Prize each year for the best historical writing about slavery. 

Personal Life:

Born into slavery in Maryland, Frederick Bailey never knew his parents. It was rumored his father was his mother’s master, but he never really knew. He was separated from his mother as an infant, and lived with his grandmother until he was seven. His mom died when he was ten. From age seven to twelve Frederick worked on a plantation. He then became a house slave in Baltimore. This is where Sophia Auld, his master, taught him the alphabet. He soon began to teach himself to read secretly.

By age sixteen, he was teaching other slaves to read the Bible, and held regular lessons for six months before other masters broke up a meeting, using stones and clubs. Frederick was sent to a “slave breaker” as punishment, working on a small farm. He was beaten and whipped regularly until he successfully fought back.

In 1837, he fell in love with a free black woman living in Baltimore named Anna Murray, who helped him escape. She gave him a sailor’s uniform with fake ID papers, and enough money to take a train to New York and freedom. He later wrote, “I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.” Anna Murray soon joined him and after eleven days they were married, using the name Mr. & Mrs. Johnson. They soon moved to Massachusetts, taking the new name Douglass. They had five children. He joined a church and became a preacher.

In 1843 he joined the “Hundred Conventions” project, touring America to preach against slavery, during which he was attacked and beaten. In 1845 he traveled to England and Ireland, partly to dodge his former master, who wanted his “property” back. Douglass preached, and was popular enough that people raised money to buy his freedom.

During the Civil War he served as a recruiter, and two of his children joined as soldiers. After President Lincoln was shot, Douglass spoke at his memorial in Washington, after which widow Mary Lincoln gave Douglass her husband’s walking stick.

In 1882 his wife died, and in 1884 he remarried, to Helen Pitts, a white feminist, who was twenty years younger. This angered both their families. Frederick responded saying his first marriage had been to someone of his mother’s colour, and his second to someone of his father’s. He and Helen moved to Washington DC. Their house is now a historical site.


“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box.”

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