Years ago when I was teaching third grade I had a quiet reading time when my students would be reading books they picked from my library or the school library and I would sit at my desk reading a book, too, while still keeping an eye one them to make sure they were reading, too. It was then I read the biography of Fredrick Douglass. When I read in the newspaper recently that Fredrick Douglass was born in February, I thought it would make for a good blog in February.
Several years ago a man who portrayed Fredrick Douglass came to Warren, Ohio, the city closest to me and gave a talk in our courthouse. One of my sisters came with me to listen to his talk in one of the courtrooms. It was fascinating, and we learned that Fredrick Douglass had come to our town in the 1980s as well as other towns nearby. He was a remarkable speaker just like the real Fredrick Douglass. Everyone was very interested in his talk and had questions for him afterwards.
Fredrick Douglass was born in February 200 years ago this month, but his actual birth date was never written down because he was born a slave in a slave cabin near the town of Easton, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on a plantation. At that time slaves were considered non-persons. Later in life he picked the 14th as his birth date.
Separated from his mother when he was only a few weeks old he was raised by his grandparents. When he was about eight, his grandmother took him to the plantation of his mother and left him there. She didn’t tell him she was going to leave him, and he never recovered from the betrayal of the abandonment.
After six months of being whipped once a week when he was about eight (I have no idea why, but probably just to keep him in line.) he was sent to Baltimore to live as a houseboy with Hugh and Sophia Auld, relatives of his master. It was shortly after he arrived that his new mistress taught him the alphabet. When her husband forbade her to continue her instruction, because it was unlawful to teach slaves how to read, Fredrick took it upon himself to learn. He made the neighborhood boys his teachers by giving away his food in exchange for lessons in reading and writing. At about the age of twelve or thirteen, Douglass purchased a of “The Columbian Orator,” a popular schoolbook, of the time, which helped him to gain an understanding and appreciation of the power of the spoken and written word, as two of the most effective means by which to bring about permanent, positive change.
Returning to the Eastern Shore, at approximately the age of fifteen, he became a field hand, and experienced most of the horrifying conditions that plagued slaves during the 270 years of legalized slavery in America. It was during that time that he took on a fight with the slave breaker, Edward Covey. The fight ended in a draw, but the victory restored Douglass’self-worth.
He was sent back to Baltimore to live with the Auld family, and in early September, 1838, and put to work building ships. At the age of twenty, he succeeded in escaping from slavery by impersonating a sailor.
He went first to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he and his new wife Anna Murray began to raise a family. Whenever he could he attended abolitionist meetings, and in October 1841, after attending an anti-slavery convention on Nantucket Island, Douglass became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and a colleague of William Lloyd Garrison. The Anti-Slavery Society believed there should be no union with slave holders. They said what the Supreme Court would say in its execrable 1857 Dred Scott decision that the constitution was a pro-slavery document. Frederick Douglass, however knew that Abraham Lincoln knew better.
“Here comes my friend Douglass,” exclaimed Lincoln at the March 4, 1865 reception following his second inauguration. After the assassination 42 days later, Lincoln’s widow gave Douglass her husband’s walking stick.
After Appomattox, Douglass, who had attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention on behalf of women’s suffrage movement which was going on then, said “Slavery is. Not abolished until black man has the ballot.”
This work led him to public speaking and writing. He published his own newspaper, The North Star, participated in the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, and wrote three autobiographies. He was internationally recognized as an uncompromising abolitionist, indefatigable worker for justice and equal opportunity, and an unyielding defender of women’s rights.
He became a trusted advisor to Abraham Lincoln, United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for Washington, D.C. and minister-General to the Republic of Haiti.
Fredrick Douglass died late in the afternoon or early evening of Tuesday, 20th, February 1895 in his home in Anacostia, Washington, D.C.
Douglas said, “What is possible for me is possible for you.” By taking these keys and making them his own, Fredrick Douglass created a life of honor, respect and success that he could never have dreamed of when still a boy on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
His three keys for success are:. * Believe in yourself. * Take advantage of every opportunity. *Use the power of spoken and written language to effect positive change for yourself and society.
Note: Most but not all of this blog was taken from “A Short Biography of Fredrick Douglass.” Other comments came from browsing through the amazing book FREDRICK DOUGLASS by William S. McFeely, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a few from a newspaper article written by George Will.