28 Days Of Black History Day #23 Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave.
Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his experiences in slavery in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became influential in its support for abolition. He wrote two more autobiographies, with his last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and covering events through and after the Civil War. After the Civil War, Douglass remained active in the United States’ struggle to reach its potential as a “land of the free.” Douglass actively supported women’s suffrage. Without his approval, he became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate of Victoria Woodhull on the impracticable and small Equal Rights Party ticket. Douglass held multiple public offices.
Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, famously quoted as saying, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, and named by his mother, Harriet Bailey. It was rumored that his father was their master. The plantation was located between Hillsboro and Cordova. His birthplace was likely his grandmother’s shack east of Tappers Corner (38.8845°N 75.958°W) and west of Tuckahoe Creek. Years later, after escaping to the North, he took the surname Douglass, having already dropped use of his two middle names.
He was taken from his mother at an early age and lived with his maternal grandmother, Betty Bailey. His mother died when Douglass was about ten. At age seven, Douglass was separated from his grandmother and moved to the Wye House plantation, where Aaron Anthony worked as overseer. When Anthony died, Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, wife of Thomas Auld. She sent Douglass to serve Thomas’ brother Hugh Auld in Baltimore.
History Antiquity Aztec Ancient Greece Ancient Rome Medieval Europe Thrall Kholop Serfdom Slave ship Slave raiding Galley slave Panyarring
When Douglass was about twelve years old, Hugh Auld’s wife Sophia started teaching him the alphabet, although it was illegal to teach slaves to read. Douglass described her as a kind and tender-hearted woman, who treated the boy the way one human being ought to treat another. When Hugh Auld discovered her activity, he strongly disapproved, saying that if a slave learned to read, he would become dissatisfied with his condition and desire freedom. Douglass later referred to this statement as the “first decidedly antislavery lecture” he had ever heard. As told in his autobiography, Douglass succeeded in learning to read from white children in the neighborhood and by observing the writings of men with whom he worked. Mrs. Auld one day saw Douglass reading a newspaper; she ran over to him and snatched it from him, with a face that said education and slavery were incompatible with each other.
He continued, secretly, to teach himself how to read and write. Douglass is noted as saying that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” As Douglass began to read newspapers, political materials, and books of every description, he was exposed to a new realm of thought that led him to question and condemn the institution of slavery. In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator, which he discovered at about age twelve, with clarifying and defining his views on freedom and human rights.
When Douglass was hired out to William Freeland, he taught other slaves on the plantation to read the New Testament at a weekly Sunday school. As word spread, the interest among slaves in learning to read was so great that in any week, more than 40 slaves would attend lessons. For about six months, their study went relatively unnoticed. While Freeland was complacent about their activities, other plantation owners became incensed that their slaves were being educated. One Sunday they burst in on the gathering, armed with clubs and stones, to disperse the congregation permanently.
In 1833, Thomas Auld took Douglass back from Hugh after a dispute (“[a]s a means of punishing Hugh,” Douglass wrote). Dissatisfied with Douglass, Thomas Auld sent him to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had a reputation as a “slave-breaker.” He whipped Douglass regularly. The sixteen-year-old Douglass was nearly broken psychologically by his ordeal under Covey, but he finally rebelled against the beatings and fought back. After losing a physical confrontation with Douglass, Covey never tried to beat him again.
Douglass first tried to escape from Freeland, who had hired him out from his owner Colonel Lloyd, but was unsuccessful. In 1836, he tried to escape from his new owner Covey, but failed again. In 1837, Douglass met and fell in love with Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore about five years older than he was. Her free status strengthened his belief in the possibility of gaining his own freedom.
On September 3, 1838, Douglass successfully escaped by boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. Dressed in a sailor’s uniform provided to him by Murray, who also gave him part of her savings to cover his travel costs, he carried identification papers which he had obtained from a free black seaman. Douglass crossed the wide Susquehanna River by ferry at Havre de Grace, then continued by train to Wilmington, Delaware. From there he went by steamboat to the “Quaker City” of (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), and continued to the safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles in New York City; the whole journey took less than 24 hours.
Frederick Douglass later wrote of his arrival in New York: I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.
Once Douglass had arrived, he sent for Murray to follow him to New York. She brought with her the necessary basics for them to set up a home. They were married on September 15, 1838, by a black Presbyterian minister eleven days after Douglass’ arrival in New York. At first, they adopted Johnson as their married name, to divert attention.
After the Civil War, Douglass continued to work for equality for African-Americans and women. Due to his prominence and activism during the war, Douglass received several political appointments. He served as president of the Reconstruction-era Freedman’s Savings Bank. Douglass also became chargé d’affaires for the Dominican Republic, but resigned that position after two years because of disagreements with U.S. government policy.
Meanwhile, white insurgents had quickly arisen in the South after the war, organizing first as secret vigilante groups, including the Ku Klux Klan. Armed insurgency took different forms. Powerful paramilitary groups included the White League and the Red Shirts, both active during the 1870s in the Deep South. They operated as “the military arm of the Democratic Party”, turning out Republican officeholders and disrupting elections. More than 10 years after the end of the war, Democrats regained political power in every state of the former Confederacy and began to reassert white supremacy. They enforced this by a combination of violence, late 19th-century laws imposing segregation and a concerted effort to disfranchise African Americans. New labor and criminal laws also limited their freedom.
In an effort to combat these efforts, Douglass supported the presidential campaign of Ulysses S. Grant in 1868. In 1870, Douglass started his last newspaper, the New National Era, attempting to hold his country to its commitment to equality. After the midterm elections, Grant signed the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also known as the Klan Act), and the second and third Enforcement Acts. Grant used their provisions vigorously, suspending habeas corpus in South Carolina and sending troops there and into other states. Under his leadership over 5,000 arrests were made. Grant’s vigor in disrupting the Klan made him unpopular among many whites, but earned Douglass’ praise. An associate of Douglass wrote of Grant that African Americans “will ever cherish a grateful remembrance of his name, fame and great services.”
In 1872, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States, as Victoria Woodhull’s running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket. He was nominated without his knowledge. Douglass neither campaigned for the ticket nor acknowledged that he had been nominated.
However, during that year Douglass’ home on South Avenue in Rochester, New York, burned down; arson was suspected. A complete issue of The North Star was lost. Douglass then moved to Washington, D.C.., as elaborated below
Throughout the Reconstruction era, Douglass continued speaking, and emphasized the importance of work, voting rights and actual exercise of suffrage. Douglass’ stump speech for 25 years after the end of the Civil War emphasized work to counter the racism that was then prevalent in unions. In a speech delivered on November 15, 1867, Douglass said: “A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex.” Douglass spoke at many colleges around the country. These included Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, in 1873