Anti-slavery Orator, Writer : 1818 - 1895
Born into slavery on the eastern shore of Maryland, Frederick Douglass was sent at age ten to labor for a family in Baltimore, where his slave master’s sympathetic wife taught him the rudiments of reading and writing. With no formal schooling, Douglass educated himself by reading everything he could get his hands on. (He took his last name from the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Lady of the Lake.) In his late teens he was hired out to a cruel master whom he defied in an act of great moral and physical courage. Disguised as a sailor, the twenty year-old Douglass escaped to New York and began his extraordinary career as an abolitionist orator, writer, newspaper publisher and governmental official.
Douglass published three autobiographical books. The first and most influential of these is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845). The Narrative focuses on the victims of slavery and the barbaric crimes inflicted upon them. It was an immediate success and today is considered a classic slave narrative.
A powerful physical presence and a superb orator, Douglass dramatically preached freedom and independence for slaves. Further, he was an early champion of women’s rights and printed the motto “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color” on the masthead of his abolitionist newspaper, the North Star. His vision was also international in scope as he advocated fair treatment for working people in England, Ireland and Scotland; yet his most important work continued to be in the United States.
During the Civil War, he wrote: “We are fighting for unity of idea, unity of sentiment, unity of object, unity of institutions, in which there shall be no North, no South, no East, no West, no black, no white, but a solidarity of the nation, making every slave free, and every free man a voter.”