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Frederick Douglass

Famous Abolitionist, Author, Suffragist


Frederick Douglass was a man who escaped slavery in Maryland and published the memoir, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.” Douglass wrote five autobiographies despite never being given a formal education. He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in 1818 to a Native American woman and an enslaved man of African/European descent. He was separated from his family at a young age to work on the Wye House plantation in Maryland. He was “given” to another family, who sent him to work in Baltimore. He credited the wife in this Baltimore house for first teaching him the alphabet. He then taught himself to read and write and began teaching other enslaved people how to read using the Bible. When word spread he was teaching reading, he was forcibly transferred to a man named Edward Covey, a brutal enslaver who regularly beat and whipped his captives. Douglass was 16 at the time. He escaped Covey’s farm in 1838 and made his way to New York. He married and moved with his family to Massachusetts, where he changed his last name from Bailey to Douglass. He met more people involved with the abolitionist movement, and by 1843 he embarked on a tour through the U.S. with the American Anti-Slavery Society. He was physically assaulted several times on this trip. In one attack, his hand was broken so badly he never fully regained its use.

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

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