Frederick Douglass Foundation of NY
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an
organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." - Frederick Douglass -
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"Devoted Christians - Proud Americans - Active Republicans"
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|Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey Douglass
Proud Black, Republican & Champion of Civil Rights
February 14, 1818 to February 20, 1895
spokesman for his people. Douglass writing was devoted primarily to the creation of a heroic image of himself that would inspire in
African Americans the belief that one’s color need not be a permanent bar to their achievement of the American dream, while reminding
whites of their obligation as Americans to support free and equal access to that dream for Americans of all races.
The man who became internationally famous as Frederick Douglass was born on Maryland's Eastern Shore in February 1818, the son of
Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unknown white man. Although he recalls witnessing, as a child, the bloody whipping of his Aunt Hester by
his master, Douglass says in his autobiographies that his early experience of slavery was characterized less by overt cruelty than by
deprivations of food, clothing, and emotional contact with his mother and grandmother. Sent to Baltimore in 1826 by his master's son-in-
law, Thomas Auld, Frederick spent five years as a servant in the home of Thomas Auld's brother, Hugh. At first, Hugh's wife Sophia
treated the slave boy with unusual kindness, giving reading lessons to Frederick until her husband forbade them. Rather than accept
Hugh Auld's dictates, Frederick took his first rebellious steps toward freedom by teaching himself to read and write.
In 1833, a quarrel between the Auld brothers brought Frederick back to his home in Saint Michaels, Maryland. Tensions between the
recalcitrant black youth and his owner convinced Thomas Auld to hire Frederick out as a farm worker under the supervision of Edward
Covey, a local slave breaker. After six months of unstinting labor, merciless whippings, and repeated humiliations, the desperate sixteen-
year old slave fought back, resisting one of Covey's attempted beatings and intimidating his tormentor sufficiently to prevent future
attacks. Douglass dramatic account of his struggle with Covey would become the heroic turning point of his future autobiographies and
one of the most celebrated scenes in all of antebellum Black American literature.
In the spring of 1836, after a failed attempt to escape from slavery, Frederick was sent back to Baltimore to learn the caulking trade.
With the aid of his future spouse, Anna Murray, and masquerading as a free black merchant sailor, he boarded a northbound train out of
Baltimore on 3 September 1838 and arrived in New York City the next day. Before a month had passed Frederick and Anna were
reunited, married, and living in New Bedford, Massachusetts, as Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Douglass, the new last name recommended by
a friend in New Bedford's thriving Black American community. Less than three years later, Douglass joined the radical Garrisonian wing
of the abolitionist movement as a full-time lecturer.
After years of honing his rhetorical skills on the antislavery platform, Douglass put his life's story into print in 1845. The result, Narrative
of the “Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” written by himself, sold more than thirty thousand copies in the first five years
of its existence. After a triumphal 21 month lecture tour in England, Ireland, and Scotland, Douglass returned to the United States in the
spring of 1847, resolved, against the advice of many of his Garrisonian associates, to launch his own newspaper, the North Star.
Authoring most of the articles and editorials himself, Douglass kept the North Star and its successors, Frederick Douglass's Paper and
Frederick Douglass's Monthly, in print from 1847 to 1863. One of the literary highlights of the newspaper was a novella, “The Heroic
Slave,” which Douglass wrote in March 1853. Based on an actual slave mutiny, it is regarded as the first work of long fiction in African
A rupture of the close relationship between Douglass and Garrison occasioned a period of reflection and reassessment that culminated in
Douglass's second autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom” (1855). Although he had befriended and advised John Brown in the
late 1850s, Douglass declined Brown's invitation to participate in the Harpers Ferry raid but was forced to flee his Rochester, New York,
home for Canada in October 1859 after he was publicly linked to Brown. Applauding the election of Abraham Lincoln and welcoming the
Civil War as a final means of ending slavery, Douglass lobbied the new president in favor of African American recruitment for the Union
Army. When the war ended, Douglass pleaded with President Andrew Johnson for a national voting rights act that would give Black
Americans the franchise in all the states. Douglass's loyalty to the Republican Party, whose candidates he supported throughout his later
years, won him appointment to the highest political offices that any Black American from the North had ever won: federal marshal and
recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, president of the Freedman's Bureau Bank, consul to Haiti, and chargé d’affaires for the
The income Douglass earned from these positions, coupled with the fees he received for his popular lectures, most notably one entitled
“Self-Made Men,” and his investments in real estate, allowed Douglass and his family to live in comfort in Uniontown, just outside
Washington, D.C. during the last two decades of his life. His final memoir, “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” first published in
1881 and expanded in 1892, did not excite the admiration of reviewers or sell widely, as had his first two autobiographies.
But the Life and Times maintained Douglass's conviction that his had been a “life of victory, if not complete, at least assured.” Life and
Times shows Douglass dedicated to the ideal of building a racially integrated America, in which skin color would cease to determine an
individual's social value and economic options.
In the last months of his life, Douglass decried the increasing incidence of lynching in the South and disputed the notion that by
disenfranchising the Black American man a more peaceful social climate would prevail throughout the nation. Yet, Douglass never
forsook his long-standing belief that the U.S. Constitution, if strictly and equally enforced, remained the best safeguard for Black
American civil and human rights.In the history of Black American literature, Douglass's importance and influence are immeasurable.
Frederick Douglass Embodied Three Keys for Success in Life:
- Believe in yourself
- Take advantage of every opportunity
- Use the power of spoken and written language to effect positive change for yourself and society
Douglass said, "What is possible for me is possible for you." By taking these keys and making them his own, Frederick Douglass created
a life of honor; respect and success that he could never have dreamed of when still a boy on Colonel Lloyd's plantation on the Eastern
Shore of Maryland.
|"Honoring the Father of the America's Civil Rights Movement"