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Frederick Douglass: From Slave to Leader - FAME

 

When he needed time alone, Frederick Douglass retreated to this small stone house on his Washington, D.C. lot.  Photo from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.  PD.  Online, courtesy Library of Congress.

 

As Frederick continued his unrelenting, outspoken verbal onslaught against slavery, he made friends, and had admirers, in high places. Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were just a few of those who believed in his work.

Traveling throughout the country, and abroad, his words and speeches were printed in many newspapers. A German journalist, Ottilie Assing, who asked to interview Douglass for her newspaper, Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, spent the next 22 summers with the Douglass family, helping Frederick with his writing and tutoring the Douglass children.

In his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom, he wrote: "I have worked hardest to get equal rights for Negroes" but that priority "does not keep me from working to help people of all races."

An article, written immediately after Frederick’s death, provides more details about his relationship with President Lincoln.

During the war he was one of the safest counselors of Abraham Lincoln. Of all his counselors, none, probably, was more welcome than Douglass. Through the latter’s efforts New York was the first to put colored soldiers in the field, and the first colored men to enlist in the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth [Massachusetts] colored regiments were Mr. Douglass’ two sons...

Lewis Douglass was the 54th’s first sergeant major and saw heavy action at Fort Wagner, the well-guarded garrison protecting the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Although 1,515 Union troops were killed in the attack, memorialized in the movie Glory, Lewis was not injured. His brother Charles, also part of the 54th, was one of more than a hundred free blacks whom Frederick Douglass recruited from upstate New York with words like these:

Who would be free themselves must strike the blow...I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the Government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. This is your golden opportunity.

After the Civil War was over, Douglass served his country as a diplomatic minister to Haiti and as an official in several administrations. He was Marshal in Washington, D.C. for annual freedom celebrations. He believed that newly freed slaves, living in a country which had previously legalized their bondage, had to meaningfully become involved with American life:

After the close of the war, the great question before the people was, What shall be done with the freedmen? And to the solution of this question Mr. Douglass devoted himself most assiduously, knowing that every advantage would be taken of their defenseless...condition by the scheming politicians. His efforts were devoted in the main to bringing order out of chaos that existed in the states in late rebellion...He sought to impress upon those in power the necessity for preparing the manumitted [freed] slaves to enjoy the blessings of citizenship by inculcating the spirit of industrial independence.

Not everyone, including the United States Supreme Court, agreed with Douglass that former slaves had the right to equally participate in the affairs of the country. With the high court’s decision in Plessy v Ferguson, in 1896, the rights of black people were set back again as racial segregation replaced chattel slavery as a legal way of American life.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 01, 2005

Updated Last Revision: Feb 23, 2015


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