You know on Fridays I usually bring you a guest author. Recently I went to watch ’12 Years a Slave’, like many people. The film reminded me of my studies in American Literature, slave narratives, autobiographies, and in the list of people that came to my mind, I kept thinking about Frederick Douglass. I read his autobiography years back, and is it one of these books that make you realise that human will is a force like no other and gives you hope for the human race. And I thought I might as well share why I think he was such an example and a man we should never forget.
I’ll leave you a short biography, some quotes, links, and I recommend you read his autobiography. It is not only inspiring but a great read.
He was born into slavery, Frederick Washington Bailey, in Tukahoe, Maryland (7th February 1817 although the specific date is in question). He was the son of a slave woman (he only saw his mother a few times before she died when he was 7) and was brought up by his grandparents on a plantation. His father was white and he never knew him (it is suspected it could have been the slave owner).
When he was 8 he was sent to Hugh Auld in Baltimore. The wife of Auld taught him the alphabet (defying state law that slaves should not be taught to read) and he continued to learn from other kids. He returned to the plantation in 1833 and was sold to a slave owner renowned for his cruelty, until he confronted him when he was older. Whilst working in a shipyard at age 20 he managed to escape and went to New York City, where he changed his name to Frederick Douglass (name of the hero in Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake). He moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he worked as a labourer. He married for the first time Anna Murray, a free black woman, and had 5 children.
Always acknowledged as a leader by his peers, William Lloyd Garrison heard him speak at a meeting in 1841 and became his mentor. Douglass became an agent and lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. He was very successful and with the help of the Agency he published the first of his autobiographical works The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1844).
Worried about the possibility of being recaptured by his former owner, he traveled to Britain and Ireland and lectured on slavery. While he was there he raised funds and established his own anti-slavery paper The North Star. This created a rift with William Lloyd Garrison who opposed such idea and this continued throughout the Civil War, despite efforts by Harriett Beecher Stowe. In 1855 he published My Bondage and My Freedom.
During the Civil War, Douglass tried to convince Abraham Lincoln that former slaves should be allowed to join the Union Army. After the war he continued his campaigns for full civil rights for former slaves, also advocating women’s suffrage and speaking on the Irish rule.
When his first wife died, he married his secretary, Helen Pitts, a white woman, causing controversy.
He held several public posts (and was proposed as vice-president in a joint-bill with a woman) including assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission (1871), marshall of the District of Columbia (1877-1881) and U S Minister to Tahiti (1889-1891). In 1881 he published The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
He died of heart failure in Washington on the 20th February, 1895. He has had bridges named after him, schools, stamps…
The masthead of his newspaper The North Star once read:
Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color.
I will unite with any one to do right, and with no one to do wrong!
I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.
No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.
A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.
The soul that is within me no man can degrade.
To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.
America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.
It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.
Without a struggle, there can be no progress.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.
I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.
Link to quotes page (Brainy Quotes):
Biography.com (Includes a brief video of his biography):
His papers at the Library of Congress:
History.com (also brief video about Douglass):
Documenting the American South:
His page in Goodreads;
Links to works (FREE):
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Collected Articles of Frederick Douglass
His page in Project Gutenberg, including audios:
Link to his autobiography in American History:
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