“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
“A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex”
In Ireland, “The chattel becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult. I employ a cab—I am seated beside white people—I reach the hotel—I enter the same door—I am shown into the same parlour—I dine at the same table—and no one is offended… I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people. When I go to church, I am met by no upturned nose and scornful lip to tell me, ‘We don’t allow niggers in here!’” – from My Bondage and My Freedom.
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was a leader, an American social reformer, orator and statesman. He was born a slave in 1817, taken from his mother at only a few months old and sent to a neighbouring plantation. On the plantation the owner stated that, ’slaves should know nothing but to obey his master-to do as he is told.” So Douglass secretly learnt how to read and write. By the age of 15 he had read many books, newspapers, political materials and was exposed to a new realm of thought . In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator, a collection of political essays, poems, and dialogues used in American schoolrooms in the first quarter of the 19th century to teach reading and speaking, as the catalyst that helped him to clarify and define his views on freedom and human rights.
In 1838, at the age of 21 he escaped, disguised as a free black sailor. He travelled North, where slavery had been abolished. That same year he married his first wife, days after landing in New York. A great orator he spoke out at anti-slavery meetings in Nantucket Island. There he eloquently described his life as a slave, and his struggles to be free, and his listeners, all white, were horrified by his description of slavery. Douglass was given a job as a Lecturer by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In 1845 his first published book ,’Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass’ became available and proved popular. Skeptics questioned whether a black man could have produced such an eloquent piece of literature. The book received positive reviews and became an immediate bestseller with-in three years of its publication. It was eprinted nine times with 11,000 copies circulating in the United States, translated into French and Dutch and published in Europe. He wrote 2 more autobiographies, with his last, ‘Life and Times of Frederick Douglass’, published in 1881 it covering events through and after the Civil War.
Douglass remained active in the United States’ struggle to reach its potential as a “land of the free”. He also worked on behalf of Equal rights for freedmen, and held multiple public offices. Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He traveled and lectured on slavery in the British Isles until he returned to the States. In 1847 he started his first newspaper the North Star an abolitionist paper in the US.
In 1848 he was the first African American to speak at a Women’s Right Convention in favour of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the resolution was passed. In 1850′s he was an advocate for desegregation of schools. By 1877 he was appointed marshal of the district of Columbia. In 1884 he remarried a white feminist, and responded to criticism of his marriage by saying, “My first wife was the colour of my mother, and the second the colour of my father.”
In 1889-91 he served as US Consul General Haiti.
Douglass died on 20 Feburuary 1895
His fame continued and numerous public schools have been named in his honor. He was awarded many prestigious honours. In 2010, a statue (by Gabriel Koren) and memorial (designed by Algernon Miller) of Douglass were unveiled at Frederick Douglass Circle in Central Park in New York City. His life story is a beacon for generations to come. Despite his beginnings he endured more than we have ever encounter from racism, sexism and many other ‘isms’ and he wasn’t bitter and twisted. Instead he impacted the World.