Frederick Douglass, former slave and champion of civil rights, as he appeared in 1856. Photo online, courtesy National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution.
Liberty is meaningless
where the right to utter
one's thoughts and opinions
has ceased to exist.Frederick Douglass
1860 Boston Speech
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in 1818 near the town of Easton, Maryland. Like most slaves, he did not know his birth date. Like many slaves, he had a black mother and a white father. Although he never could be sure, folks said his daddy was the plantation master, Aaron Anthony.
Because his mama, Harriet Bailey, worked as a field hand twelve miles away, little Frederick rarely saw her. His grandma was his primary care giver.
When Fred was about seven, Harriet died. Her son (the fourth of six children) was not allowed to see her when she was sick or when she passed away. Speaking of the few times he actually saw his mother, he later observed:
I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. [She had to walk 12 miles, one way, to visit him.] She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. (Narrative, page 18.)
When he was about six, young Fred went to work. No longer in the care of his grandma, he would serve the needs of others until he ran away. When he found freedom, he also took a new name: Frederick Douglass.
As Frederick Douglass, he was the first African-American to be nominated for U.S. President.
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