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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
Frederick Douglass’s story is, perhaps, one of the greatest stories of courage and determination the 19th century has ever seen. Frederick Douglass was born into a rather unfortunate slave life, destined to work as a slave for the rest of his life, though he was determined not to let this get the better of him. Although it is highly speculative, Douglass was the son of a field slave and a white master, most likely his first master captain Anthony. His mother gave him the full name, and a rather unusual one, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, perhaps, in the hope that this distinguished name would serve as an asset to him and his future life. He later changed it as he went around the United States.
Unfortunately, Douglass was separated from his mother very early. At this time, it’s likely that Frederick’s mother didn’t have such high hopes for herself and her son, but little did she know that Frederick Douglass would grow to be one of the most prominent figures for the freedom of slaves’ movement and for the empowerment of black people in America. Even after more than 190 years, Frederick Douglass still serves as a figure of inspiration for those looking to fight any forms of oppression. Douglass did what he could to escape his tumultuous slave life and, eventually, sought freedom, becoming devoted to abolishing slavery and the American civil rights movement. Frederick Douglass helped to educate all about the importance of human rights’ issues and freedom in America, and elsewhere.
The great thing about Douglass’s story is that it illustrates how resilience, determination, and perseverance can help one achieve his goals. We’re all too familiar with the American Dream and, ironically, this was taken away from Douglass in America but he tried hard to get it back. Luckily for him, he succeeded and would inspire many more Americans to follow suit. Frederick spent the first 20 years of his life living in slavery and was born into it on a plantation in Maryland, Baltimore. The story turned out well in the end as Douglass became a writer of a series of books such as the autobiographical, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) where he describes in graphic detail the adversities that he and other young black slaves faced. Douglass hardly ever saw his mother and was often barely clothed as he was forced into menial and backbreaking tasks by his master – one can only imagine the kind of hardships many African Americans had to go through at the time.
In the western world, it’s too often for people to take their education for granted. Frederick Douglass oftentimes learned to read and write by bribing white people into teaching him with bread. In the beginning, he served and worked hard on a plantation in Baltimore to the Auld household. The plantation owner Hugh Auld’s wife taught Douglass the alphabet and how to read basic words until he was twelve but then gave up, once her husband realized this and objected to it seriously. By the age of twelve, he was able to acquire his first book, the Columbian Orator, which would serve him well in the future to help him become a public lecturer. Douglass was motivated to help other young black slaves succeed, so after he educated himself he started sharing his knowledge with other black people and even taught lessons in a forbidden Sunday school.
Growing intensely tired of his slave life, Douglass aimed to try and escape. He was very sure that he would be able to free himself and made two attempts as a teenager, but both failed drastically, with some harsh consequences. Fortunately in 1837 Douglass fell in love with a free African American named Anna Murray who gave him a sailor’s uniform that would help him be on his way. After that, Douglass was able to very cleverly obtain identification papers from a black sailor that would set him free from slavery and give him the identity of a free man in 1838. Douglass relocated to Massachusetts in the hope of educating himself further and inspiring many more people. Once he had gained his freedom, Douglass was able to return to Murray and married her later that year – the couple had five children but in the end, they separated.
After moving to Massachusetts, within a few years Douglass had become a world-famous author, public speaker, and advocate for civil rights. Douglass’s literature made him famous around the world, and he traveled all over to places, such as Britain, and other parts of the United States of America to talk about civil rights and the ending of cruel oppression. He was a well-educated man that fought for the end of all sorts of oppression and showed his support wherever he could, for instance, being the first male to attend the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s suffrage in 1848. It is good to see that he was an all-around advocate of oppression. After the Civil War broke out in 1861, President Lincoln even recruited Douglass as an advisor to help him gather up black troops to fight for the Union in the north. He excelled even further, becoming the president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank as he moved to the capital city. In 1877 the president appointed Douglass to be the federal marshal for the Columbian district, and he served on the US consul as the resident minister to Haiti in 1889. Douglass became the first black African American to be a candidate for vice presidency. Right up to his death in 1895, Frederick Douglass worked hard and served his country well – a true example of how active work and perseverance pay off as long as you put your mind to something and stick with it. Douglass serves as an inspiration to us all – if he could overcome such crippling adversity and still try hard to get to the top, maybe, many others living in poverty or coming from harsh backgrounds can try and do the same. Douglass mentioned in his autobiography that if there was no struggle then there wouldn’t be any progress. You can certainly see why he meant this when he wrote it – Douglass’s life was surely a struggle for many years but he got to achieve many things and learned a lot because of it.
Douglass wrote a series of autobiographical pieces and various works, which earned him respect around the world as a renowned writer. His first experiences about slavery were written about in his 1845 biography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. This work rose to be one of the best-sellers in the states and was one of the core texts related to making a case for the abolition of slavery. His second novel, My Bondage, and My Freedom came in 1855 and was another slave narrative, outlining the oppressive times. The last of Douglass’ autobiographies was released shortly after the Civil War in 1892, called the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. This triptych does justice to the civil rights movement and Douglass’ work is widely cited by academics.
Douglass’ first autobiography, in fact, made him afraid of his freedom because as he had gained publicity he thought that, perhaps, this would prompt his ex-owner to try and get him back, so he left for Europe in 1845. As Douglass lived in Britain and Ireland over a two year period, he was most welcome and faced little racial discrimination, even being given a platform to make iconic lectures on racism and discrimination that have gone down in the history books. It was thanks to his supporters in England that he was able to gain funding, which the English public raised, to contact his former owner so that he could pay for his freedom, thus, making him a legally free man in 1846. He was able then to return to his country of origin and make further steps towards ending oppression.
Look all over the whole America and you’ll find tributes to Douglass painted everywhere. There are constant reminders and tributes to his name; for instance, there are Douglass’ parks, Douglass’ buildings, Douglass’ avenues, Douglass’ streets and at least twenty academies and schools are named after him. These reminders stretch all across the country, from the north in New York to Louisiana in the Deep South. In popular media and film, numerous actors have portrayed Douglass and his struggles with striking dramatic effect. Douglass’ has even been referenced on a US postal service stamp in the late 20th century. Everyone can’t get enough of Douglass, especially academics. His work is being made more accessible and digitized all over the world so that it is preserved throughout time – everything from his books to his speeches – is becoming published, even by reputable publishing companies such as Yale University Press.
A world-renowned orator, a literary genius, a businessman, a politician. There aren’t enough words to describe Douglass’ career and what made him great. He will be forever known as the most well known African American campaigner for abolitionism in the United States. His books have inspired millions and will inspire millions more for many years to come. He was truly one of the most remarkable men of his era – born into such hardship, yet so determined not to let this get the best of him and to advance on and on to courageously fight for the rights of people all over the world. We can all learn something from Frederick Douglass.