We often celebrate historical people on the anniversary of their birth (AKA, their birthday!), but Frederick Douglass never knew what day he was born. It wasn't even certain exactly what year he was born. His best guess for his birth year was 1818.
Why didn't he know his birthday? He was born a slave (in Maryland in the U.S.) with the last name Bailey. He never knew his father, and he was separated from his mother when he was just a baby.
Douglass ran away from slavery when he was around 20 years old. He changed his name and settled in Massachusetts, where he made it his life's work to work for the abolition of slavery. He worked for human rights of all sorts, including women's right to vote, and equality for Native Americans and recent immigrants as well as for blacks. Douglass spoke and wrote about his ideas and informed white audiences of the horrible realities of slavery.
Frederick Douglass's words:
"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.”
“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”
(When asked to describe what it felt like when, as a runaway slave, he reached the North and freedom):
“Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”
– Thanks to Brainy Quote and Wikipedia!What happened to Frederick Douglass after the Civil War?
- Douglass's speech honoring the slain Abraham Lincoln was so moving to the president's widow, apparently, that she gave Douglass Lincoln's favorite walking stick.
- Douglass worked as president of a freedman's bank, a U.S. Marshall and a diplomat; he also continued on the lecture circuit, speaking at universities and emphasizing voting rights and other civil rights.
- Douglass's house in Rochester, New York, was burned down in 1872, possibly because of arson. The family moved to Washington, D.C.
- Douglass's wife died in 1882, which made him quite depressed; later, when he married a woman who was working for women's rights, the new couple met up with a lot of hatred and anger because she was white.
- In 1872, Douglass became the first black person to be nominated as Vice President of the U.S. This would be in the “good” list, except for the fact that nobody consulted Frederick Douglass before nominating him! He was on the ticket, along with Victoria Woodhull as the presidential candidate, for the Equal Rights Party, and not only did Douglass not campaign, he never even acknowledged the nomination.
Read the book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
This book is short and easy to understand, but be forewarned: Douglass's account of the horrors of slavery is pretty vivid.
Watch some videos.
Each short video about Frederick Douglass (available on the Bio Classroom Video site) tells about a portion of his life.
There is a coloring page about Douglass on the Apples for the Teacher website.