November 8, 2013
A former slave, Frederick Douglass fought for African-American rights during the Civil War years. Known for his eloquence, he served as living proof to the public of the capacity of African-Americans when given the chance. After the Civil War ended, Douglass continued to used his skills in oration to fight for woman’s rights and to further fight for civil rights.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. His mother, Harriet Bailey, was a slave and his father was an unknown white man. Eventually, Douglass was sent to Baltimore, where he served a man named Hugh Auld. Auld’s wife Sophia began teaching Douglass how to read around the age of twelve, but Auld demanded that she stop. These few reading lessons were all that Douglass needed to discover his love for knowledge.
In order to improve himself without his masters knowing, Douglass would secretly read old newspapers and magazines. He would also learn to read from young children he encountered in the streets, along with studying the writings he found wherever he worked. While Douglass learned to read, he simultaneously established his views on equal rights and abolition.
Freedom In the North
After moving from one slave-owner to another, Douglass made multiple escape attempts, but finally broke free to the North in 1838. He arrived in New York and stayed at the safe house of an abolitionist. Douglass then sent for Anna Murray to join him to New York. Murray was a free black woman who Douglass had fallen in love with back in Baltimore. After the two reunited, they moved to New Bedford.
The couple lived at Nathan and Polly Johnson’s house, who were also abolitionists and and agents in the Underground Railroad. Douglass joined multiple organizations, including the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which was later named after him, and other abolition groups. He reluctantly gave his first speech at an anti-slavery meeting in Nantucket, where he spoke about his difficult life as a slave.
He eventually found speaking on abolition to be his calling, and would give many more speeches throughout his life. Douglass would even put his life at risk to voice his opinion, as many of his presentations in the south were greeted with violence against him and his views. Douglass’s articulate speeches astounded his audience to the degree where many of them questioned whether he was actually a former slave, or if other people wrote them. Douglass himself questioned whether both his talents and knowledge of the extreme inequalities between races was a gift or a curse. However, through his eloquence, Douglass spread his life story and views on equal rights throughout Massachusetts, the United States, and eventually, the rest of the world.
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