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Feb. 1, 2005

Frederick Douglass

by Varun Gulati, Page Editor
Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, famed author and speaker and black civil rights advocate.
Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, famed author and speaker and black civil rights advocate.
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, the son of a white man and black woman, was born in 1818 in Maryland. Bailey lived with his grandparents and later with ship carpenter Hugh Auld in Baltimore, where he learned to read and write from his master's wife. However, this luxurious life soon ended when he was sent back to the country, where he was underfed, overworked and whipped daily.

In 1838, Bailey escaped to New York in the disguise of a sailor. While there, he married Anna Murray, a woman he met in Baltimore, and the two escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, Bailey changed his last name to Douglass, attended abolitionist meetings and joined various organizations, including a black church. In 1841, he attended the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society's annual meeting, where he met and heard a speech by William Lloyd Garrison, author of the weekly journal The Liberator. Soon, he was asked to become a lecturer for the Society, which initiated his career as an abolitionist.

For three years, Douglass toured across Europe and gave speeches. In 1848, he published his own weekly journal, The North Star. In 1851, he attended a meeting in Syracuse, New York, where he announced that, contrary to the views of Garrison, his white-abolitionist mentor, Douglass did not believe the Constitution was a pro-slavery document. Douglass believed that the Constitution could, in fact, "be wielded in behalf of emancipation." This, as well as other disagreements, led to a dispute between Douglass and Garrison, which would carry over into the Civil War.

Douglass met with Abraham Lincoln during the 1860s and enlisted the help of northern black troops to join the Union Army, including his own two sons. After the Civil War, Douglass continued his participation in abolitionist movements and received "presidential appointments" from presidents Grant, Garfield and Harrison.

Information has been compiled from Phillyburbs and PBS.

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