About this Collection
This online collection presents newspapers edited by Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the African American abolitionist who escaped slavery and became one of the most famous orators, authors, and journalists of the 19th century.
Douglass believed in the importance of the black press and in his leadership role within it, despite the struggles of earlier black newspaper enterprises.
The first issue of The North Star, December 3, 1847, emphasized that belief in "Our Paper and Its Prospects":
It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and negro-hating land, a printing-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression…that the man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress,—that the man STRUCK is the man to CRY OUT—and that he who has endured the cruel pangs of Slavery is the man to advocate Liberty.
Douglass' newspapers also stressed black self-improvement and responsibility. One stated object of The North Star, as given in the December 3, 1847 issue, was to "promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the colored people."
While focusing on ending slavery and promoting the advancement and equality of African Americans, Douglass strongly supported women's rights. From its beginning, the motto of The North Star proclaimed:
"RIGHT IS OF NO SEX--TRUTH IS OF NO COLOR--GOD IS THE FATHER OF US ALL, AND ALL WE ARE BRETHREN."
The Frederick Douglass Newspapers collection contains more than 575 issues of three weekly newspaper titles, which have been digitally scanned from the Library of Congress collection of original paper issues and master negative microfilm.
The North Star (Rochester, N.Y.), 1847-1851
Douglass founded and edited his first antislavery newspaper, The North Star, beginning December 3, 1847. The title referred to the bright star, Polaris, that helped guide those escaping slavery to the North. As Douglass explained in the initial issue: "To millions, now in our boasted land of liberty, it is the STAR OF HOPE." Douglass and his family moved from Lynn, Massachusetts, to Rochester, New York, a thriving city on the Erie Canal and one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before safe haven in Canada. The move also gave him distance from his early mentor, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, whose newspaper, The Liberator, was published in Boston, and who opposed Douglass' newspaper venture. Initially, his co-editor was black abolitionist Martin R. Delany, who had published his own newspaper, The Mystery, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until earlier that year. His first publisher was William Cooper Nell, a black abolitionist from Boston. Douglass gained much of the funding to establish The North Star during a lengthy speaking tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland from late August 1845 to early April 1847, which followed the publication of his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. British abolitionist Julia Griffiths, whom he met during the tour, moved to Rochester in 1849 and was able to get the newspaper on better financial footing.1
Frederick Douglass' Paper (Rochester, N.Y.), 1851-1860
In June 1851, The North Star merged with the Liberty Party Paper (Syracuse, New York), under the title, Frederick Douglass' Paper. Still published in Rochester with volume and issue numbering continuing from The North Star, Douglass remained editor. Former Liberty Party Paper editor, John Thomas, was listed as corresponding editor. Gerrit Smith, the wealthy abolitionist and staunch Liberty Party supporter, encouraged the merger. Smith, who had provided some funding for The North Star, provided more financial support for Frederick Douglass' Paper, as Douglass joined Smith as a political abolitionist. A letter from Smith appeared on page 3 of the first issue of the Paper on June 26, 1851: "Much joy is expressed that you have settled down upon the anti-slavery interpretation of the federal Constitution." This viewpoint meant a complete break from William Lloyd Garrison and the American Anti-Slavery Society and their support of nonvoting, pacifism, and the rejection of the Constitution as a proslavery document.
In 1859, Douglass added a monthly as a supplement to the weekly paper, but by mid-1860, Douglass' Monthly replaced the weekly publication, as he increasingly focused on the impending Civil War and, during the war, on recruitment and acceptance of black troops. Douglass only ended the monthly publication in August 1863, when promised an army commission by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton after separate meetings with Stanton and President Lincoln about unequal pay and poor treatment of black troops. The commission never materialized, but 16 years of newspaper publication ended.2
New National Era (Washington, D.C.), 1870-1874
Douglass' final newspaper venture brought him to Washington, D.C. In September 1870, he became editor-in-chief and part owner of the New National Era, renamed from the short-lived New Era, for which he had been a corresponding editor based in Rochester. The New National Era gave Douglass a platform to champion Reconstruction and Radical Republican policies and to attack the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the romanticizing of the South in the "Lost Cause," and bigotry and violence against African Americans throughout the U.S. His deep association with the newspaper was relatively short-lived, however. After fully purchasing the newspaper so that it would not fail, Douglass mainly turned it over to his sons, Lewis and Frederick, Jr., who published it for its remaining few years. Writing about the New National Era in his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass External, he stated, "A misadventure though it was, which cost me from nine to ten thousand dollars, over it I have no tears to shed. The journal was valuable while it lasted, and the experiment was full of instruction to me, which has to some extent been heeded, for I have kept well out of newspaper undertakings since."
In early June 1872, while Douglass was living in Washington, D.C., his Rochester home was destroyed in a devastating fire. All family members living there survived, but most of their belongings were lost, including sixteen volumes of The North Star, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, and Douglass’ Monthly. No complete collection of Douglass’ newspapers is known to exist, but this online collection greatly expands access to Douglass’ three weeklies.
Douglass' Monthly, January 1859-August 1863, is not part of this presentation. Issues of the Monthly are available on microfilm and microfiche in the Library of Congress Microform and Electronic Resources Center.
For additional digitized issues of the four titles, see New York Heritage Digital Collections: St. John Fisher College External.
- Frederick Douglass. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Hartford, CT: Park Publishing, 1882, c1881, p. 324. Available digitally at: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t0zp3wk6s&view=1up&seq=332 External [Return to text]
- David W. Blight. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2018, p. 407-410. [Return to text]