“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
Frederick Douglass is the epitome of strength. The ultimate mission of this courageous, awe-inspiring character proves that the mind is indeed mightier than the sword. Frederick Douglass’ legacy as a skilled orator, civil rights leader, and inspirational voice is the mark of a determined man that would risk everything simply for the taste of freedom. Frederick Douglass is Black History. Frederick Douglass is an American Hero.
Frederick Douglass, Slave
Frederick Baily was born into slavery in 1818 at Talbot County, Maryland. Grandmother Betsy Baily raised young Frederick until he was old enough for fieldwork. His memories of his mother, Harriet Baily are fragmented, as she was required to spend the majority of her days working the plantation. Frederick Baily does not know his father – other than the fact that he was white. Historians speculate that he is the offspring of his very own master, Aaron Anthony.
At age 6, Frederick’s grandmother was forced to abandon him at the Lloyd plantation.
Shortly thereafter, she was violently evicted from her cabin and left to die in the woods. She was too old to work and therefore, useless.
Frederick Baily’s first dosage of slavery’s harsh realities arrived with wretched loss, bitter cold, and a debilitating dearth of food. Young Frederick and the other slaves huddled together in the corners of their quarters late at night to generate body heat and fought each other to eat cornmeal mush out of a trough. The youngster’s psyche was also marred with blood curdling shrieks, screams, and the agonizing cries of his fellow slaves being beaten and whipped throughout the night. The horrid conditions were not fit for animal livestock.
In spite of the misery, Frederick’s charms shone through and he was selected by Lucretia Auld, daughter of Aaron Anthony to live with her brother-in-law, Hugh Auld at Baltimore. The 8-year-old Douglass was now a house slave, subjugated to running errands and watching over the Auld’s infant son. Sophia Auld began reading to the youngster and teaching him the alphabet.
Husband Hugh Auld was absolutely incensed when he caught wind of these lessons.
Hugh Auld scolded his wife and declared that the learned slave would reject his status as property and flee to the North. The enraged slave owner argued that the institution could only be carried forward through institutionalized ignorance. The outburst motivated Frederick to acquire knowledge as his primary pathway to freedom.
Frederick Baily began to barter food and goods in exchange for tutoring, books, and various manuscripts to any accommodating individual in Baltimore.
Patriarch Aaron Anthony’s death and the ensuing estate dispute shipped Frederick Baily back to St. Michaels, Maryland at Lloyds Plantation and into fieldwork as human cargo. The 15-year-old Douglass often refused to submit to slave work and even held court as a scholar – teaching other slaves to read and write.
Slave owner Thomas Auld retaliated by frequent lashings to the bare backs of his slaves and inhumane starvation tactics that forced these people to scavenge and raid the countryside for food. Renegade Frederick Baily was particularly impossible to control and was sent off to toil for Edward Covey, a poor white man notorious for breaking the wills of all slaves.
Baily’s body physically collapsed underneath the frequent beatings and exhausting work from daylight to sundown, nearly toppling his mind and willpower along with it. As Covey was set to tie Frederick to a post for yet another whipping, the resolute Baily rose up and grabbed Edward Covey by the neck. The two adversaries battled for roughly two hours before Covey conceded the draw. Certainly, word of the uprising would have served as a death sentence for Frederick.
Edward Covey remained mum upon the death match. His inability to tame a 16 year old would have destroyed his reputation.
Frederick was shipped off to yet another slave camp. The teenager again held court with his fellow slaves and set up a ramshackle school, of sorts. He also devised a plan to steal a boat, sail towards the northern reaches of the Chesapeake, and disembark for freedom at Pennsylvania. Of course, his plan was discovered and Frederick, along with his cohorts were jailed. Surprisingly, Thomas Auld emerged to claim Baily and sent him back to house life at Baltimore – rather than suffering a living death in the Deep South to new masters.
Frederick was to meet with Baltimore’s free, educated Blacks within various debating societies and even met his wife, Anna Murray at an intellectual gathering. Baily and Auld also set up an arrangement where Frederick secured his own employment – but was sometimes allowed to keep minimal amounts of his pay for himself. Frederick Baily cringed every time that he was required to hand over his hard earned currency to Thomas Auld.
The courageous young man borrowed money from Anna and purchased a ticket to Philadelphia, under the guise of falsified paperwork that depicted him as a free sailor. After arriving at Philadelphia, he still felt the paralysis of the slave catcher’s shackles and quickly boarded a train for New York City on September 4, 1838 – uncertain whether he would ever see the Love of his young life ever again.
Frederick Douglass, Intellectual
Still operating from the debilitating fear of the lash – Frederick Baily stealthily navigated New York’s Underground Railroad nodes and sent for his fiancée, Anna Murray. The two married and continued North to New Bedford, Massachusetts. The successful Black Johnson family housed the couple. Nathan Johnson suggested that the runaway change his name to Frederick Douglass, a character of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake to further evade detection.
Although the couple was far from the slaveholding South, blatant segregation was still the order of the day and the skilled Douglass could only find work as a laborer. Regardless of these setbacks, Frederick Douglass continued to cultivate his intellect and inevitably groom himself for leadership. Our young man was to quickly become swept up in the machinations of William Lloyd Garrison and the abolition movement.
The radical Garrison stood tall in his beliefs that slavery must be abolished with civil disobedience, rather than violence. The polarizing figure ripped organized religion, refused to vote, ridiculed the U.S. Constitution three-fifths census for slaves, championed women’s rights, and challenged the slaveholding South to secede – leaving a Free North.
The American Anti-Slavery Society served as William Lloyd Garrison’s platform and the firebrand handpicked Frederick Douglass to play the part of the abolitionist movement’s supreme insider mouthpiece.
Douglass electrified crowds with his fierce oratorical skills, recounting the myriad injustices of slavery. His growing acclaim along the speaking circuit sparked the abolition movement and moved subscriptions for Garrison’s Liberator and Anti-Slavery Standard newspapers. Perhaps Frederick Douglass was too special for his own good and what began as an accidental circus-like atmosphere centered upon the musings of a runaway slave caricature evolved into the measured discourse of an intellectual waxing poetic upon Northern prejudice, Religion, and Women’s rights. According to the Liberator:
“How a man, only six years out of bondage, and who had never gone to school could speak with such eloquence – with such precision of language and power of thought – they were utterly at a loss to devise.”
Douglass was quickly losing credibility as a true former slave and the opposition attacked the movement as a contrived sham – deriding the lecturer as Garrison’s puppet. Frederick Douglass retaliated with his best-selling Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave memoir. The smashing success was critiqued across the Atlantic and sparked our hero’s international celebrity. Douglass elevated his profile and brazenly flaunted the law with this poignant autobiographical account into the wretched horrors of slavery.
Frederick Douglass, aware of the fact that Thomas Auld held rights to reclaim his property at any moment, set sail for Britain – leaving his wife and four children State Side for two years. English friends raised $710.96 and forwarded this amount to Hugh Auld. Surprisingly, Auld signed the paperwork on December 5, 1846.
Frederick Douglass was now a free man at 28.
Frederick Douglass and the Civil War
Douglass returned to the United States to discover a country paralyzed with turmoil and trending towards the point where the ultimate war with itself was inevitable. Mr. Douglass moved his family West and proceeded to set up shop at Rochester, NY and establish his very own North Star newspaper. The North Star emerged as the most prominent Black periodical in America and said happenings marked a shift away from his mentor, William Lloyd Garrison.
Mr. Douglass forged relationships with feminist leader Susan B. Anthony, Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the militant John Brown. Brown’s failed attempt to command a slave revolt and march on Harpers Ferry fueled an explosion of tabloid journalism that fingered Douglass as a primary mastermind behind the plot. In 1859, Frederick Douglass fled, yet again. The Civil Rights leader returned to Western Europe – fearing tilted, Kangaroo Court U.S. persecution.
The unquestioned voice of Black America returned to mourn the loss of his youngest daughter, Annie to a Nation distracted by the election of Abraham Lincoln and the April 12, 1861 fall of Fort Sumter.
The brutal Civil War destroyed the American countryside for four grisly years. William Sherman’s triumphant March to the Sea fractured the Confederacy, leaving the ultimate resolution of the War to General Grant’s dogged pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s exhausted troops amidst the Virginia Wilderness. The Confederate commander surrendered at the Appomattox Court House in 1865.
Douglass served as Lincoln’s trusted confidante, recruiting Black soldiers, lobbying for their rights, and beaming throughout the December, 31 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. As the Union Army emerged victorious – Frederick Douglass set his sights upon managing and protecting the freedoms of former slaves.
The aforementioned Civil War gave way to another Chapter of our grueling Civil Rights warfare campaign that began with the shocking 1865 assassination of President Lincoln and has divided the Nation for more than one Century – without conclusion.
Frederick Douglass’ Legacy
Reconstruction Era Douglass and his Republican Party of Lincoln battled Southern Democrats and a small faction of Andrew Johnson led conservatives resistant to change. Republicans were seeking to protect freedmen’s rights, grant African American suffrage, and coordinate Black-voting power in the South. Yes, the Republican Party was once the political bastion of the Black Man and foremost authority concerning Civil Rights. We have indeed come full circle.
Douglass retired to a15 acre, 20-room home in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. Today, the estate is a National Historic Site.
Following his wife’s 1882 passing, Douglass took one year of mourning before marrying Helen Pitts, a white woman twenty years his junior. The interracial marriage outraged both his White and Black supporters. According to our civic leader – he had now completed his duty to honor both sides of the family. Deceased wife, Helen represented his African American mother and the Pitts marriage paid homage to his European lineage. This basic wit shall serve as a fitting tribute for a man that preached equality towards all.
Frederick Douglass died on February 20, 1895, and will forever be hailed as an American Hero.
Black History: Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist and Intellectual Sources:
Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave