Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818, on a plantation in Maryland. His mother was thought to be of Native American and African decent while his father was White and rumored to be the plantation owner. From birth Fredrick was separated and lived with his maternal grandmother. When he turned six years old he was moved to a different plantation and “given” to Lucretia Auld who taught him the alphabet. He learned how to read and write and began teaching other slaves as well with the Bible.
After again being transferred to another plantation known for grueling labor and harsh conditions, he chose to escape in 1838. After Douglass settled in New York and got married, he then moved to Massachusetts. In New Bedford, they met a couple, the Johnsons, who were born free persons of color. They heavily impacted Fredrick and led him to be more involved in the abolitionist movement.
Through his readings he was mentored by William Lloyd Garrison who encouraged him through his works and also in person to become a public speaker on the matter. By 1843, Douglass, as a part of the American Anti-Slavery Society, took part in the 6 month tour through the USA called ‘Hundred Conventions.’ In 1845, he wrote his first and most famous autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.” He also published his own abolitionist newsletter, “The North Star.”
Along with his goal of freedom of fellow African Americans, he strived to decrease discrimination against women as well. During the Civil War he remained steadfast and determined to continue his message. When President Lincoln came into office, Douglass initially supported him, but came into disagreement when he didn’t move to allow Blacks to vote even though they had fought alongside Union soldiers.
After the war he held many official positions in the government; even becoming the ambassador for the Dominican Republic, thus becoming the first black man in high office. In 1888, he became the first African-American to receive a vote for President of the United States, during the Republican National Convention. Even though he wasn’t chosen, he continued to speak and be an activist and writer till his death in 1895.
What personally inspires me is the amount of peace Douglass had. Even though he had the right to be angry and hate Whites, he strived for reconciliation. He reconciled with Lincoln shortly before his death, and even went and found Thomas Auld who had formerly “owned” him, and reconciled. He was able to have an amazing impact and make serious changes by aiming to help others understand and treat everyone as equals. He was an advocate for all marginalized members of society.
Nadia Wooten, Project RACE Teens Vice President
Picture source: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.