Interesting quotes by Frederick Douglass

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.

Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.

Without a struggle, there can be no progress.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.

I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.



A brief biography of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born circa February 14, 1818 in Cordova, Maryland. He was a writer, orator, statesman, social reformer and abolitionist. Frederick escaped from slavery in Maryland and went on to be at the forefront of the abolitionist movement in Massachussets and New York. He is most remembered for his eloquent speeches against slavery and for the freedom and equality of all men and women. He was also a leading example of an African-American intellectual, countering the falsehoods touted by slaveholders who claimed that slaves didn’t have the mentality to function as free citizens.

Frederick was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, and was born into slavery. He was uncertain of his own birth date and chose to celebrate it on February 14, as his mother referred to him as her “Little Valentine.” He was separated from his mother when he was an infant and was raised by his maternal grandmother, Betsy Bailey. He was separated from her around the age of 6 and moved around between plantations until he was 12. His education came from the wives of plantation owners and men he worked with, but once learning materals were hidden from him, he continued to learn in seceret any way he could—from newspapers, pamphlets, and any books he could get his hands on. Later in life he would state, “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

Frederick escaped to the north in September of 1838, where he dropped his middle names and took on the surname of Douglass. He boarded a train in Baltimore headed to Philadelphia, dressed in a sailor uniform and with money and encouragement he obtained from his future wife and free woman, Anna Murray. He carried protection papers and identification with him he got from a free African-American seaman. At the Sesquehana River he travel by steamship and on to Perryville, and then by train to Wilmington, Delaware. There he traveled again by steamship to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and then on to a safe house in New York City owned by David Ruggles, an abolitionist. Once in New York, he sent for Anna to meet him in New York. She brought enough with her to set up a home and they were eventually married on September 15, 1838, less than two weeks after his arrival. They moved to Massachusetts—settling first in New Bedford and three years later to Lynn. It was at this time they chose Douglass as a surname.

Soon after, Frederick Douglass joined the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and became a licensed preacher by 1839. Being a preacher helped him hone his skills as a public speaker. He was also a steward, Sunday-school superintendent, and sexton. He delivered one of his first speeches in 1840 in Elmira, New York. At this time, Douglass also joined several local organizations and attended abolitionist meetings. In 1843, he joined others at the American Anti-Slavery Society’s “Hundred Conventions” project, where they toured the northeastern and midwestern states giving lectures against slavery. At times Douglass was accosted and even attacked—having his hand broken during one such event, which never properly healed and affected him for the rest of his life. This didn’t dissuade him, and he continued to lecture, and by 1845 he published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, an eloquently-written autobiography, much to the surprise and chagrin of his opponents. He ended up writing three autobiographies during his life and also toured the United Kingdom, giving lectures in England and Ireland. He wrote of the extreme poverty he encountered overseas, which reminded him of his days as a slave. Douglass spent two years giving lectures in the churches and chapels in United Kingdom and befriended several activists, such as Daniel O’Connell and Thomas Clarkson. Douglass also managed to legally buy his freedom, thanks to donations received from his British supporters, led by Anna Richardson and her sister-in-law, Ellen of Newcastle upon Tyne. Much as they urged him to stay, Frederick returned to the USA in the spring of 1847 to be with his wife and to continue the fight against slavery back home.

In 1847, upon his return, Douglass began to publish his first periodical, North Star, and opposed the American Colonization Society who pushed to have freed slaves sent back to Africa. He also became part of the Underground Railroad, giving safe lodging and resources to over four-hundred slaves. Around this time, Douglass also parted ways with some of his supporters as he felt the Constitution of the United States provided the means within it to defeat slavery, which was in contrast of the belief of others at the time, due to the Three-Fifths Claus, which stated that 60% of slaves would be added to the census of state population free persons figures—for the purpose of apportioning seats in Congress.

Over his career, Douglass would also fight for women’s rights, and was a supported of suffrage for woman and blacks, though he felt there was not enough support to push for women’s right to vote at the time, and black men’s right to vote should be conquered first. He believed that linking the two causes could make them both fail.

Douglass was very interested in photography and believed it could aid in ending slavery and racism. He used his photographs as a counter to the racist caricatures of the day, specifically those of minstrels. It was because of this that he made a point to not smile in his photographs and instead sported a stern look. Consequently, he was the most photographed person in the United States in the 19th century.

Frederick Douglass published three autobiographies during his life. The first, and his most famous, was Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845. The second, My Bondage and My Freedom, was published in 1855. The third and final work was Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and later revised in 1892.

Frederick Douglass died from a heart attack on February 20, 1895 at his home in Washington D.C.. Prior to this he attended a meeting of the National Council of Women. Thousands attended his funeral service and United States Senators and Supreme Court judges were his pallbearers. His body was moved to Rochester, New York for burial at Mount Hope Cemetery. Local schools were closed and flags flew at half mast in his honor.


Works by Frederick Douglass

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