Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ash. Ash Wonders, “WHO WAS Frederick Douglass” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ash!
It was on July 4, 1776, that the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress, declaring the independence of the fledgling United States of America from the control of the British Empire. Sadly, though, not all Americans were free that day.
For those brought to America as slaves and born as slaves to slave parents, Independence Day did little to make them feel free. For the large numbers of enslaved people, true freedom would not come until nearly a century or more later.
The long era of slavery is a grim reminder that not all people in America have been treated equally. Although painful, it can be helpful to revisit dark periods of history to learn from the mistakes of the past. Today, we will take a look back at a man who was born a slave but eventually became a great author, orator, and crusader against slavery.
Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Maryland around 1818. The son of an African-American slave woman, his father was likely her white master. He adopted the last name Douglass when he escaped slavery at age 20. He chose the name based upon a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.
Unlike most slaves, Douglass was taught the alphabet as a child by one of his master's wives. He continued to learn to read and write from white children and others in the Baltimore neighborhood where he lived. Douglass shared what he learned by teaching other slaves how to read the Bible.
After his escape from slavery, Douglass married Anna Murray, the free black woman from Baltimore who had helped him to escape. They settled in a thriving free black community in Massachusetts, where he became active in the abolitionist movement.
Abolitionists sought to abolish slavery. Asked to share his personal story at abolitionist meetings, Douglass soon became a regular speaker at anti-slavery events. Eventually, he wrote his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845.
His autobiography was a best seller in the United States and was even translated into several European languages. To keep from being recaptured after its publication, Douglass sailed to England and spent a couple of years there before returning to the U.S.
Douglass published two other versions of his autobiography over the course of his lifetime: My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855 and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1881. These enduring works are one of his most important and lasting legacies. He also regularly wrote for a variety of anti-slavery newspapers.
Douglass' efforts as an author and an abolitionist speaker made him what many historians consider to be the most important African-American leader of the 19th century. During the Civil War, he worked tirelessly for emancipation, even serving as an advisor to President Lincoln on two occasions.
Even after the Union victory in the Civil War, Douglass continued to work for racial equality. He also became an early advocate of the women's rights movement. His political fame brought him an appointment as foreign minister to Haiti in 1889.
Douglass passed away in 1895. He remains one of the most famous advocates of racial equality and social justice in American history.