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Collection African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (c. 1817-1895). Mathew Brady Studio. Photograph, c. 1890. LC-BH83201-30219.

(c. 1817-1895)

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland. At the age of twenty-one, masquerading as a sailor, he escaped to freedom in the North. A learned man, largely self-educated, Douglass lectured brilliantly on behalf of the cause of abolition. "White men and black men had talked against slavery, but no man had ever spoken like Frederick Douglass," said William Wells Brown, America's first widely-published black novelist and playwright.

From 1845-47, Douglass toured Great Britain, where his speeches aroused popular support for his cause. The British public raised L150 to buy Douglass's freedom so that he might return to the United States to continue his fight without fear of being captured as a fugitive slave. Douglass's weekly journal, The North Star, together with his platform appearances, made him a major political force in the years leading to the Civil War.

When the war came, Douglass called for the use of black troops; his two sons served in the Union army. After the war, Douglass received presidential appointments from Presidents Grant, Garfield, and Harrison. He died in 1895.

Although a friend and admirer of John Brown, Douglass opposed Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry for reasons he explains in "John Brown, an Address."