Social Justice Activists | Frederick Douglass


Frederick Douglass photoFrederick Douglass was born into slavery in February of 1818 as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Talbot County Maryland.  As a child, Douglass was selected to live in the manor house of the plantation.  Around the age of ten, Douglass was sent (or sold) to the Auld family of Baltimore.  There, Mrs. Auld taught Douglass to read in opposition to laws that prohibited the teaching of reading to slaves.  It was through reading, however, that Douglass’ opposition to slavery began to emerge. 

Douglass avidly read newspapers, political writing, literature, etc.  And, while hired out by the Aulds to William Freeland, Douglass taught other slaves on Freeland’s plantation to read, giving lessons at weekly church services.

In September 1838, with the help of Anne Murray, a free Black woman from Baltimore, Douglass escaped slavery making his way to New York to the home of abolitionist David Ruffles.  Shortly thereafter, Douglass married Anne Murray and the couple adopted the name Douglass as their married name.  They later settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

In New Bedford, Douglass, attending abolitionist meetings, was asked to tell his story.  A gifted orator, he quickly became an anti-slavery lecturer.  Upon hearing Douglass speak, William Lloyd Garrison wrote of Douglass in his anti-slavery paper The Liberator.  In 1845, at Garrison’s urging, Douglass wrote and published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.  Douglass went on to publish three more versions of his autobiography in 1855, 1881, and finally, in 1892, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.  During this time, he also published a number of abolitionist newspapers: The North Star, Frederick Douglass Weekly, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, Douglass’ Monthly, and New National Era.

Douglass also championed women’s rights, attending, in 1848, the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York.  Douglass’ strong support for women’s rights prompted Victoria Woodhull to choose him as her running mate on the Equal Rights Party’s presidential ticket in 1872.  His nomination marked the first time an African American appeared on a presidential ballot. 

Among the prominent positions which Douglass attained after the Civil War were as president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, charge’ d’affairs for the Dominican Republic, and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti.

Frederick Douglass died on February 20, 1895 and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.