|“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” |
(Speech on the 24th anniversary of Emancipation, Washington, D.C.)
Anti-slavery Orator and Writer (1818-1895)
Born into slavery on the eastern shore of Maryland, Frederick Douglass was sent at age ten to a family in Baltimore where he was taught the rudiments of reading and writing by his slave master's sympathetic wife. With no formal schooling, Douglass became self-educated through reading anything he could acquire. (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. Ultimately, 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 earliest and most influential of which 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 main focus was on this country, and 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.”