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Frederick Douglass (1818 to 1895)Great American Patriot Badge Sample - smallFrom the outbreak of the Civil War until his death, Frederick Douglass (1818 to 1895) was generally recognized as the premier Black American leader and spokesman for his people. Douglass writing was devoted primarily to the creation of a heroic image of himself that would inspire in African Americans the belief that one's color need not be a permanent bar to their achievement of the American dream, while reminding whites of their obligation as Americans to support free and equal access to that dream for Americans of all races.

The man who became internationally famous as Frederick Douglass was born on Maryland's Eastern Shore in February 1818, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unknown white man. Although he recalls witnessing, as a child, the bloody whipping of his Aunt Hester by his master, Douglass says in his autobiographies that his early experience of slavery was characterized less by overt cruelty than by deprivations of food, clothing, and emotional contact with his mother and grandmother.

Sent to Baltimore in 1826 by his master's son-in-law, Thomas Auld, Frederick spent five years as a servant in the home of Thomas Auld's brother, Hugh. At first, Hugh's wife Sophia treated the slave boy with unusual kindness, giving reading lessons to Frederick until her husband forbade them. Rather than accept Hugh Auld's dictates, Frederick took his first rebellious steps toward freedom by teaching himself to read and write.

In 1833, a quarrel between the Auld brothers brought Frederick back to his home in Saint Michaels, Maryland. Tensions between the recalcitrant black youth and his owner convinced Thomas Auld to hire Frederick out as a farm worker under the supervision of Edward Covey, a local slave breaker.

After six months of unstinting labor, merciless whippings, and repeated humiliations, the desperate sixteen-year old slave fought back, resisting one of Covey's attempted beatings and intimidating his tormentor sufficiently to prevent future attacks. Douglass dramatic account of his struggle with Covey would become the heroic turning point of his future autobiographies and one of the most celebrated scenes in all of antebellum Black American literature.

In the spring of 1836, after a failed attempt to escape from slavery, Frederick was sent back to Baltimore to learn the caulking trade. With the aid of his future spouse, Anna Murray, and masquerading as a free black merchant sailor, he boarded a northbound train out of Baltimore on 3 September 1838 and arrived in New York City the next day. Before a month had passed Frederick and Anna were reunited, married, and living in New Bedford, Massachusetts, as Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Douglass, the new last name recommended by a friend in New Bedford's thriving Black American community. Less than three years later, Douglass joined the radical Garrisonian wing of the abolitionist movement as a full-time lecturer.

After years of honing his rhetorical skills on the antislavery platform, Douglass put his life's story into print in 1845. The result, Narrative of the “Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” written by himself, sold more than thirty thousand copies in the first five years of its existence. After a triumphal 21 month lecture tour in England, Ireland, and Scotland, Douglass returned to the United States in the spring of 1847, resolved, against the advice of many of his Garrisonian associates, to launch his own newspaper, the North Star. Authoring most of the articles and editorials himself, Douglass kept the North Star and its successors, Frederick Douglass's Paper and Frederick Douglass's Monthly, in print from 1847 to 1863.

One of the literary highlights of the newspaper was a novella, “The Heroic Slave,” which Douglass wrote in March 1853. Based on an actual slave mutiny, it is regarded as the first work of long fiction in African American literature.

A rupture of the close relationship between Douglass and Garrison occasioned a period of reflection and reassessment that culminated in Douglass's second autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom” (1855).  Although he had befriended and advised John Brown in the late 1850s, Douglass declined Brown's invitation to participate in the Harpers Ferry raid but was forced to flee his Rochester, New York, home for Canada in October 1859 after he was publicly linked to Brown.

Applauding the election of Abraham Lincoln and welcoming the Civil War as a final means of ending slavery, Douglass lobbied the new president in favor of African American recruitment for the Union Army. When the war ended, Douglass pleaded with President Andrew Johnson for a national voting rights act that would give Black Americans the franchise in all the states.

 

My Bondage and My Freedom by Fredrick Douglass and Rewritten by Elizabeth Anderson

 

My Bondage and My Freedom
by Fredrick Douglass
Rewritten by Elizabeth Anderson

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Douglass's loyalty to the Republican Party, whose candidates he supported throughout his later years, won him appointment to the highest political offices that any Black American from the North had ever won: federal marshal and recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, president of the Freedman's Bureau Bank, consul to Haiti, and chargé d'affaires for the Dominican Republic.

The income Douglass earned from these positions, coupled with the fees he received for his popular lectures, most notably one entitled “Self-Made Men,” and his investments in real estate, allowed Douglass and his family to live in comfort in Uniontown, just outside Washington, D.C. during the last two decades of his life.

His final memoir, “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” first published in 1881 and expanded in 1892, did not excite the admiration of reviewers or sell widely, as had his first two autobiographies. But the Life and Times maintained Douglass's conviction that his had been a “life of victory, if not complete, at least assured.” Life and Times shows Douglass dedicated to the ideal of building a racially integrated America, in which skin color would cease to determine an individual's social value and economic options.

In the last months of his life, Douglass decried the increasing incidence of lynching in the South and disputed the notion that by disenfranchising the Black American man a more peaceful social climate would prevail throughout the nation. Yet, Douglass never forsook his long-standing belief that the U.S. Constitution, if strictly and equally enforced, remained the best safeguard for Black American civil and human rights.

In the history of Black American literature, Douglass's importance and influence are immeasurable.

Frederick Douglass Embodied Three Keys for Success in Life:

Believe in yourself.

Take advantage of every opportunity.

Use the power of spoken and written language to effect positive change for yourself and society.

Douglass said, "What is possible for me is possible for you." By taking these keys and making them his own, Frederick 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.

Information provided by The Frederick Douglass Foundation


Thoughts about Frederick Douglass...

Elizabeth A. Anderson
Author and Editor of the rewritten "My Bondage and My Freedom" (originally written by Frederick Douglass)

It can easily be said that Frederick Douglass, an escaped uneducated slave is one of the most important men in our history. It is because of his intelligence and thirst for knowledge that he taught himself to read and he "carried his diploma on his back" from the lashings he took whenever he was caught with a book. It is also because of his learning to read that he became an eloquent speaker, much in demand by the Northern Abolitionist for his descriptions of his life as a slave, thus countering Southern slave owners who claimed that they kept their slaves, "for their own good" because they weren't capable of taking care of themselves.

His intelligence, persona, and eloquence brought him in repeated contact with President Abraham Lincoln, and with one sentence he convinced President Lincoln to allow Blacks to fight for the North in our Civil War and thus changed our history...

"Allow us the dignity to fight for our own freedom"

All records indicate that General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate States would have won or Civil War and seceded from the Union had it not been for the BLACK SOLDIERS who were allowed to pick up weapons and fight for the North. Two of Douglass' own sons each raised an entire Regiment of Blacks to fight in the War and it is because President Lincoln dropped the "color bar", thus allowing Blacks to pick up weapons and fight for the Union, that we are still a UNITED States today!

David G. Bancroft, founder of USA Patriotism!

Frederick Douglass was a remarkable American who overcame so much to achieve so much . . . His visionary insight and belief in the U.S. Constitution as the foundation of all Americans' freedoms remains true today.  Frederick Douglass was a blessing to our beloved country . . . and will always exemplify one's love and pride of the USA.  He is so very deserving to be called a Great American Patriot!

Alexandra Lajoux

Frederick Douglass is a Great American Patriot. He had the personal courage to fight tyranny one on one, hand to hand, as he freed himself from abject slavery, but he was no hot head. His wise mind understood that in the vast collective scheme of things, we need civil order. Therefore, he distanced himself from vigilante movements and supported the U.S. Constitution as key to long-term freedom for all. In the end, his view has been vindicated. His example shows that a combination of personal courage and deep respect for the U.S. Constitution can help America continue to be a great and worthy nation.

Sam White (from his 2008 essay, as a 9th grader)

Frederick Douglass is truly and American hero. He was a light in a time of darkness. He spoke out when many couldn't. I think he is some one that can resemble the Christian faith. As Christians it's our job to be a light in times of darkness, and speak when others can't or should. So I hope that next time you feel like giving up or being silenced, remember the great American hero, Frederick Douglass. See the entire essay

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