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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (The Bedford SeriSummary and Reviews of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (The Bedford Series in History and Culture)
My Bondage and My Freedom (The Frederick Douglas Papers, Series Two: Autobiographical Writings, Vol.Summary and Reviews of My Bondage and My Freedom (The Frederick Douglas Papers, Series Two: Autobiographical Writings, Vol. 2)
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life As a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, His CoSummary and Reviews of The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life As a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, His Complete History to the Present Time
The Frederick Douglass Papers: Volume 4, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, 1864-80 (TheSummary and Reviews of The Frederick Douglass Papers: Volume 4, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, 1864-80 (The Frederick Douglass Papers Series)
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Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was born a slave.  He suspected his father was the superintendent of the plantation on which he was born.  His mother's name was Harriet Bailey so he was given the name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, later changing it when he escaped from slavery.  In his early childhood, Douglass perceived the injustice of slavery and even discerned the link between education and the desire to be free.  He realized before he was ten years old that the more a person could read, the more he realized that he should be free to live and work for his own wages instead of someone else's livelihood.  It was during this period of his life, between age eight and sixteen in the Auld household, that he taught himself basic reading and writing skills by tricking the children of the family into showing him what they knew.

When he was sixteen, Douglass was rented, as it were, to a "Negro breaker," Edward Covey.  Douglass had up to that time been a house slave or city slave, where slavery was still slavery but violence was not the norm.  Under Covey, however, Douglass was regularly whipped, which almost produced in him the broken, ignorant slave most masters had when they beat their slaves and kept them uneducated.  Douglass did not let himself break, though, and he decided to fight back.  He did so and, thus, escaped slavery and went to New York City.  He married a free black woman, Anna Murray, who had helped him escape, and changed his name to Frederick Douglass taking the last name of Sir Walter Scott's hero in "The Lady of the Lake."

In 1839, after he had moved with his wife to New Bedford, Connecticut, Douglass read, for the first time the Liberator newspaper, William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist publication.  He soon was a faithful reader of the newspaper and began to attend abolitionist meetings in the city.  He heard Garrison speak in 1841 and decided to attend an abolitionist convention in Nantucket, Massachusetts.  At that convention, Douglass spoke to a crowd about his experiences in slavery for the first time.  This was the beginning of a vocation in public speaking that would last the rest of his life.

Douglass lectured regularly in the United States until 1845, when he published his first book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself.  The book exposed him to recapture because of its "confession" that he had been a slave and revealed enough about whom he was and where he was that he could have been re-enslaved.  He fled to England where he continued his lectures in Britain.  Friends in England purchased his freedom from slavery so he was able to return to the United States in 1847.  Those same friends also arranged for the publication of Douglass's journal.

When Douglass returned to the U.S., however, he split from William Lloyd Garrison because of Garrison's advocacy of the secession of New England from the Union.  Garrison believed the strategy would backfire and allow the southern system of slavery to continue unchecked.  Douglass also disagreed with Garrison about the effectiveness of elections and non-violent resistance in the abolitionist cause.  Hence, Douglass supported John Brown in his attempt to directly revolt against the slave system.

Douglass viewed the John Brown episode as a means to the more legitimate way of confronting slavery, the Civil War.  He also teamed with Sojourner Truth, one of the leading black women in the abolitionist movement, to urge President Abraham Lincoln to allow blacks into the army and to urge blacks to enlist when they were allowed in 1862.  Building upon the influence he gained from this victory and from experience in the women's rights movement, he became one of the leading spokesmen for black people in America and even held several government appointments, including minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891.  He also finished and published his third full-length autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, in 1892.

Douglass early on began to move beyond the factual accounts of his slavery to include philosophical ideas in his speeches.  This made his white allies nervous because they thought it might ruin his credibility as an actual slave.  Douglass wrote his Narrative, the first of his autobiographies, because he needed to quell the notion that he had not been an actual slave.  Wendell Phillips wrote an introductory letter to convince his fellow white abolitionists that Douglass was indeed a slave who was now educated enough to write on his own behalf.  The Narrative succeeded in its goal and was very popular, selling 4,500 copies in five months.  Soon French, German, and two British (English and Irish) editions were available.  The Narrative was different from other slave narratives because it was hopeful in the midst of its attacks on American society that just as a Christian former slave could rise from the dust, so America could rise from the dust of the evil system of slavery to fulfill the promise of its founding as a fully free nation of men and women.


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