Photograph of African-American abolitionist and U.S. diplomat Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass

(c. 1818 - 1895)

Taught as a boy how to spell words of three or four letters, Frederick Douglass was told by his master that “learning will spoil the best nigger in the world.” He escaped from slavery in 1838 and, to elude capture, changed his surname from Bailey to Johnson and then to Douglass, after a character in Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake.” Douglass spoke at an antislavery convention in Nantucket in 1841. His speech was so well received that he became an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in 1845, in part to silence skeptics who claimed that no ex-slave could be so articulate. Abraham Lincoln praised him as the “most meritorious man of the nineteenth century.”

All Writing

Voices In Time

c. 1830 | Baltimore

Taking the Ell

Frederick Douglass learns the ABC’s.More

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.

—Frederick Douglass, 1852

Voices In Time

c. 1830 | Maryland

Blood-Bought Luxuries

Frederick Douglass compares the food of slaves with that of their masters.More

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham.

—Frederick Douglass, 1855

Voices In Time

1833 | Maryland

Crowd Control

“The holidays are part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery.”More

Issues Contributed