Living and Giving

Remembering Frederick Douglas: A Champion for Blacks and the Values of America

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Frederick Douglass was an incredible 19th century leader who was the son of a female black slave and a Caucasian father. Yet he was a fortunate slave, as he was taught to read, which was a special level of empowerment for any slave at that time. Just after his teens, he was able to escape the family and went up North.

He built a name for himself by empowering audiences through his inspirational talks about the importance of treating each person as person of utmost value, equal and unique.

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Douglass, Frederick
Frederick Douglass, c. 1850.
National Park Service

Frederick Douglass brought together the fabric of America: it was an America ripped apart by North and South views; belief in slavery as an economic vehicle; racist versus embracing of all humanity — a nation filled with hope and promise of true democracy and cut apart by hypocrisy. Douglass had crowds of people following him and listening to his loud and inspiring speeches. He was a formidable man.

At the beginning, he was not a great supporter of Lincoln, as Lincoln did not seem to take a strong stance for abolition. But as the cause became clear, he helped Lincoln and his views of what America was created to be: a country of humanity, a country of justice and fairness, and a country that was filled with people of all colors. Douglass became a champion for the values of America — working hard, ethics, the importance of family, and the pioneer life. One black abolitionist and friend of Frederick Douglass called him “The Representative American Man.”

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Frederick Douglass continued his call long after slavery became abolished. He was a leader not just fighting for black equal rights, but also for the rights of every American both in his time period and for time to come. We limit Douglass by saying he was a champion of black rights. He was also one of our highest leaders espousing the ideals of what everyone wrote that America would be in the Declaration of Independence, and what we hoped America is today.

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Thank you to leaders such as Frederick Douglass, who tackled critical issues of their day and helped pave a brighter, freer future for us all, no matter what issue we face. He took a stand for the values of America!

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Frederick Douglass was born into slavery around 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. He was separated as an infant from his slave mother, never having known his white father, and went to live with his grandmother on a Maryland plantation. At age eight, the plantation owner sent him to Baltimore to be a house servant for Hugh Auld. Auld’s wife eventually defied state law taught the boy how to read. Later, Douglass became a field hand and then a ship caulker. In 1838, he fled to New York City and then Massachusetts, where he worked for three years as a laborer and changed his name to Douglass to escape recapture.

Douglass was particularly eloquent and became a famous intellectual. Though he faced mockery, insults, and physically violent attacks, he continued to advocate for the abolitionist cause. He went on to advise Lincoln during the Civil War (1861-65), advocating for the war to directly confront the issue of slavery. During Reconstruction (1865-77), he also championed causes such as full civil rights for freedmen and women’s rights. He passed away February 20, 1895.

Learn more about Douglass in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.