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[Detail] North Star, June 2, 1848. Edited by Frederick Douglass.

Writing a Life: The Obituary

An obituary is a published notice of someone’s death. It is intended to inform readers, whether they knew the deceased or not, about that person’s life.  An obituary begins with details of the person’s death—time, place, and cause. It then provides a mini-biography of the person, including information about the person’s birth, education, family life, career, and interests. The last paragraph of the obituary lists the survivors—parents, spouse, children, siblings, and other people close to the individual. A good obituary brings the person to life through quotes (from the subject and people who knew him or her) and telling details.

Search the collection using the keyword Frederick Douglass death to find obituaries that were collected in scrapbooks by members of his family.  One obituary included the following description of Douglass, accompanied by the portrait below:

The personal appearance of Mr. Douglass was rather imposing. He was tall, powerfully built and finely modeled, with a swarthy complexion and an abundance of white hair crowning a handsome face. Mentally, he was far above the average of mankind, being a writer of power and elegance, a thinker of influence and an orator of true eloquence.

From “Fred Douglass Dead” in “Douglas, Frederick (Death) – Folder 34 of 34,” p. 3

After researching the life and work of Frederick Douglass, write an obituary that highlights events in his life that you consider most noteworthy.  Include quotes from and about Douglass, as well as some personal details that you believe provide insight into his character. Be sure to note his surviving family members.

You may also want to write a eulogy. Eulogies and obituaries are both writings about people who have died, but the two have different forms and serve different purposes. A eulogy is generally presented orally, at the deceased’s funeral or memorial service. A eulogy is a tribute to the life and character of the person who has died; the speaker often shares favorite anecdotes and reflects on and expresses gratitude for his orher relationship with the deceased person. By acknowledging the significance of the deceased person’s life, the eulogy helps mourners in the grieving process. A eulogy for Frederick Douglass  is included in the collection.