Why Frederick Douglass Deserves a Prominent Place in History
The story of Frederick Douglass is an astonishing one. Raised as a slave in Maryland, Douglass used knowledge as a weapon, dispelling myths about African Americans and waging war on the inhumanity of slavery. He eventually became a towering figure in the abolitionist movement, helping to end slavery during and after the Civil War. Learn the amazing story behind one of America’s greatest activists, Frederick Douglass.
Knowledge as Power
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland. His mother was often working in the fields, leaving young Douglass in the company of his grandmother. After his mother died when he was just 12, Douglass moved to a new home. He was sent to work for a man named Hugh Auld. Auld’s wife taught the young man how to read the alphabet. From then on, Douglass became obsessed with reading and did everything he could to get his hands on new material, whether it was a clip of a newspaper or a crinkled up pamphlet.
A Slave No More
As his mind became more knowledgeable of the outside world, Douglass set his sights on the idea of freedom. Hoping to escape to the cities in the north, Douglass tried on several occasions to run away from his owners. He eventually met a former slave named Anna Murray who encouraged Douglass to pursue his dreams of becoming a free man. He eventually stowed himself on a freight train heading for Baltimore. Using some money and a sailor’s uniform, Douglass successfully made his way to Philadelphia in the free state of Pennsylvania.
The Power of the English Language
Douglass eventually settled with his new wife Murray in the town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. He took an early interest in the local African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, where he nurtured his talent as a public speaker, giving sermons on the horrors of slavery. He joined the American Anti-Slavery Society, crossing the country to deliver messages of hope and freedom. He also wrote his first autobiography as a young man, recounting his experiences as a slave. His book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave became a major sensation. The idea of a former slave being such an accomplished orator and writer outraged many in the country. Up until Douglass, many people believed that slaves were at an inherent disadvantage when it came to reading and writing. Douglass put his dissenters to shame.
Douglass continued his mission to end slavery throughout the 1800s. He ran one of the country’s most effective abolitionist newspapers and used photography to capture the true face of slavery. He also became an advocate for women’s rights and the suffrage movement. Above all, Douglass believed in equality for everyone, encouraging newly free African American men and women to “agitate” the establishment at every turn.