Fredrick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. When he was 23 years old, he gave a moving speech to abolitionists in Massachusetts about his life as a slave. He would continue on to become a leading spokesperson for the abolition of slavery and for racial equality.

Frederick’s mother died when he was seven. He witnessed the degradations of slavery, brutal whippings and spent much time cold and hungry. He moved to Baltimore and worked in a shipyard when he was eight years old. He also learned to read and found out about abolition and abolitionists.

After coming back from Baltimore, he was hired out to a farm but was mistreated; whipped and hardly fed. In 1836, Douglass resolved to be free by the end of that year. His plans to escape were realized two years later, on September 3, 1838. Travelling by train and steamboat he arrived in New York City the following day. A few weeks later he settled in Massachusetts, living with his newlywed bride.

Douglass always strived to educate himself. He joined various organizations, attended Abolitionists’ meetings and subscribed to a weekly journal on abolitionism. He became a lecturer for the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society for 3 years; and started a career that would continue throughout his life

William Lloyd Garrison and Douglass had different views on abolition. Garrison represented the radical end of the abolitionist spectrum, denounced churches, political parties and even voting. Garrison believed in the dissolution of the Union. He also believed that the United States Constitution was a pro-slavery document.

In 1845, Douglass published his autobiography explaining his life as a slave. In 1851, Douglass announced that he did not assume that the constitution was a pro-slavery document. He didn’t advocate for the dissolution of the Union, since it would isolate slaves in the South.

Douglass continued his involvement to better the lives of African Americans. He conferred with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and recruited northern blacks for the Union Army. After the war, he fought for the rights of women and African American alike.

Source: Fredrick Douglass
Copyright © 1998, 1999 WGBH Educational Foundation

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