NAME: Frederick Douglass
OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist
BIRTH DATE: c. February 1818
DEATH DATE: February 20, 1895
PLACE OF BIRTH: Tuckahoe, Maryland
PLACE OF DEATH: Washington, D.C.
ORIGINALLY: Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey
*Douglass became the First African American nominated for Vice President of the United States.
*Seen as the most influential & prominent male figure in the Abolition of Slavery Movement.
*Published the first Best Selling Novel by an African American in the U.S. “The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.”
*Published the First African American Weekly NewsPaper “The North Star.”
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, around 1818. The exact year and date of Douglass’ birth are unknown, though later in life he chose to celebrate it on February 14. Douglass lived with his maternal grandmother, Betty Bailey. At a young age, Douglass was selected in live in the home of the plantation owners, one of whom may have been his father. His mother, an intermittent presence in his life, died when he was only 10.
Frederick Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, the wife of Thomas Auld, following the death of his master. Lucretia sent Frederick to serve her brother-in-law, Hugh Auld, at his Baltimore home. It was at the Auld home that Frederick Douglass first acquired the skills that would vault him to national celebrity. Defying a ban on teaching slaves to read and write, Hugh Auld’s wife Sophia taught Douglass the alphabet when he was around 12. When Hugh Auld forbade his wife’s lessons, Douglass continued to learn from white children and others in the neighborhood.
It was through reading that Douglass’ ideological opposition to slavery began to take shape. He read newspapers avidly,and sought out political writing and literature as much as possible. In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator with clarifying and defining his views on human rights.
In 1833, Thomas Auld took Douglass back from his son Hugh following a dispute. Thomas Auld sent Douglass to work for Edward Covey,who had a reputation as a “slave-breaker.” Covey’s constant abuse did nearly break the 16-year-old Douglass psychologically. Eventually, however, Douglass fought back, in a scene rendered powerfully in his first autobiography. After losing a physical confrontation with Douglass, Covey never beat him again. Frederick Douglass tried to escape from slavery twice before he succeeded. He was assisted in his final attempt by Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore with whom Douglass had fallen in love. On September 3, 1838, Douglass boarded a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. Anna Murray had provided him with some of her savings and a sailor’s uniform. He carried identification papers obtained from a free black seaman. Douglass made his way to the safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles in New York in less than 24 hours.
Once he had arrived, Douglass sent for Murray to meet him in New York. They married on September 15, 1838, adopting the married name of Johnson to disguise Douglass’ identity. Anna and Frederick settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which had a thriving free black community. There, they adopted Douglass as their married name. Frederick Douglass joined a black church and regularly attended abolitionist meetings. He also subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly journal The Liberator. Eventually Douglass was asked to tell his story at abolitionist meetings, after which he became a regular anti-slavery lecturer. William Lloyd Garrison was impressed with Douglass’ strength and rhetorical skill, and wrote of him in The Liberator. Several days after the story ran, Douglass delivered his first speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in Nantucket. Crowds were not always hospitable to Douglass. While participating in an 1843 lecture tour through the Midwest, Douglass was chased and beaten by an angry mob before being rescued by a local Quaker family.
Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave
At the urging of William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass wrote and published his first autobiography,
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845. The book was a bestseller in the United States and was translated into several European languages. Douglass published three versions of his autobiography during his lifetime, revising and expanding on his work each time. My Bondage and My Freedomappeared in 1855. In 1881, Douglass published Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, which he revised in 1892.
Reaction to Douglass American Slave Book.
Thomas Auld, who was Douglass former owner was outraged when the book was released. Auld disputed all of the names, dates, and factual accounts in the narrative, also stating that it was “impossible” for a negro to be able to author such a work. After the publishing of the book, Auld issued a bounty on Douglass. Auld threatened to recapture Douglass and sell him to the “deepest darkest” plantation in the south, stating “his back would bleed everyday for the rest of his life.” Douglass fled to Ireland to avoid the bounty where Irish and English Abolitionists raised funds to buy Douglass freedom from the Auld family, Douglass returned to America a free man. Margaret Fuller, a very prominent book review critic of that era, had an extremely positive opinion of Douglass’ work. She claimed, “we have never read [a narrative] more simple, true, coherent, and warm with genuine feeling.” She also described the preface in which two white men wrote on behalf of Douglass, establishing his credibility in the eyes of the public. She also suggested that “every one may read his book and see what a mind might have been stifled in bondage – what a man may be subjected to the insults of spendthrift dandies, or the blows of mercenary brutes, in whom there is no whiteness except of the skin, no humanity in the outward form .
Upon his return to America as a free man, Douglass began publishing the abolitionist newspapers: The North Star, Frederick Douglass Weekly, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, Douglass’ Monthly and New National Era. The motto of The North Star was “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.”
Fredrick Douglass Weekly Abolitionist Newspaper “The North Star”,
First NewsPaper Published by an African American.
By the time of the Civil War, Douglass was one of the most famous black men in the country. He used his status to influence the role of African Americans in the war and their status in the country. In 1863, Douglass conferred with President Abraham Lincoln regarding the treatment of black soldiers, and with PresidentAndrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage.
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, declared the freedom of all slaves in Confederate territory. Despite this victory, Douglass supported John C. Frémont over Lincoln in the 1864 election, citing his disappointment that Lincoln did not publicly endorse suffrage for black freedmen. Slavery everywhere in the United States was subsequently outlawed by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Frederick Douglass was appointed to several political positions following the war. He served as president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank and as chargé d’affaires for the Dominican Republic. After two years, he resigned from his ambassadorship over objections to the particulars of U.S. government policy. He was later appointed minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti, a post he held between 1889 and 1891.
*Douglass became the first African American nominated for vice president of the United States, as Victoria Woodhull’s running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872. Nominated without his knowledge or consent, Douglass never campaigned. Nonetheless, his nomination marked the first time that an African American appeared on a presidential ballot.
At the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington’s Lincoln Park, Douglass was the keynote speaker for the dedication service on April 14, 1876. In his speech, Douglass spoke frankly about Lincoln, noting what he perceived as both the positive and negative attributes of the late President. He called Lincoln “the white man’s president” and cited his tardiness in joining the cause of emancipation. He noted that Lincoln initially opposed the expansion of slavery but did not support its elimination. But Douglass also asked, “Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? At this speech he also said: “Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the Negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery….”
The crowd, roused by his speech, gave him a standing ovation. A long-told anecdote claims that the widow Mary Lincoln gave Lincoln’s favorite walking stick to Douglass in appreciation. Lincoln’s walking stick still rests in Douglass’ house known as Cedar Hill.
In his last autobiography, The Life & Times of Frederick Douglass, Douglass referred to Lincoln as America’s “greatest President.”
Family Life and Death
Frederick and Anna Douglass had five children: Rosetta, Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr., Charles Redmond, and Annie. Annie died at the age of 10. Charles and Rosetta assisted their father in the production of his newspaper The North Star. Anna Douglass remained a loyal supporter of Frederick’s public work, despite marital strife caused by his relationships with several other women.
On February 20, 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. Shortly after returning home, Douglass died of a massive heart attack or stroke. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.