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Frederick Douglass

- Frederick Douglass -
Frederick Douglass (1818 - February 20, 1895) American abolitionist, writer, statesman, and reformer.

Frederick Douglass, born a slave around 1818 in Talbot County, MD. escaped slavery to become the most prominent African-American in the United States of his time, a leader of the anti-slavery movement in the United States as an influential lecturer, author, and publisher of a series of newspapers: the North Star, Frederick Douglass Weekly, Frederick Douglass' Paper, Douglass' Monthly, and the New National Era.

His work spanned the years of prior to and during the Civil War. He knew John Brown but did not approve of Brown's plan to start an armed slave revolt. He conferred with President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers in 1863 and with President Andrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage. His closest collaborators were white abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

Douglass most lasting work is his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which was published in 1845. Critics frequently attacked the book as inauthentic, not believing that a black man could possibly have written so eloquent a work. It was an immediate bestseller and received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews. Within three years of publication, it was reprinted 9 times with 11,000 copies circulating in the United States and translated into French and Dutch. The book's success, however, forced him to go to England to escape reenslavement. He was only able to return when two Englishwomen, Ellen and Anna Richardson, purchased his freedom from his former master, Hugh Auld, for 700 dollars.

In later years, he served as President of the failed Reconstruction era Freedman's Savings Bank, marshal of the District of Columbia, minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti and chargé d'affaires for Santo Domingo. In 1892 the Haitian government appointed him has its commissioner to the Chicago World Columbian Exposition.

He died of a heart attack in his adopted hometown, Washington D.C..


  • Parts of this article are drawn from Houston A. Baker, Jr. introduction to the Penguin 1986 edition of Narrative of the Life of a Frederick Douglass.

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