Death mask of Frederick Douglass, created by Ulric Dunbar the day after Douglass died on February 20, 1895. PD image online, courtesy U.S. National Park Service (NPS).
Frederick died, very suddenly and unexpectedly, of heart disease on February 20, 1895. He was 78 years old. While debriefing his second wife Helen, on the events of a women’s rights meeting he had just attended, he slumped over and passed away at his home. Frank, the mastiff dog who was Douglass’ constant companion, missed his master so much that he "died of grief" a few weeks later.
When he returned home, he had no feeling of illness, though he appeared to be a little exhausted from the climb up the steep flight of steps leading from the street to the house, which is on a high terrace.
At his death, his estate was valued as high as $200,000. The contents - or presumed contents - of the Will initially generated newspaper stories which alleged controversy between the Douglass children and his widow. Those differences - to whatever extent they existed - were quickly resolved.
His Cedar Hill home, preserved through the efforts of many people (like Booker T. Washington and African-American women’s groups), has been restored as a national memorial. Located at 1411 W Street, S.E., Washington, D.C., it is open to the public.
His legacy continues to have a profound impact. As Coretta Scott King observes, in her forward to Escape From Slavery: The Boyhood of Frederick Douglass in His Own Words (an abridged version of Douglass’ three autobiographical books):
Born into slavery, separated from his family, and forced to suffer frequent beatings and humiliation from slave masters, Douglass might easily have become just another among the millions of slaves whose condition denied a chance for a decent life. But like my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was inspired and deeply moved by these writings, young Frederick had a dream that one day he and all black people would live in freedom.
Frederick’s dream, in other words, still lives.