Frederick Douglass

Antislavery Activist / Orator

Born: February 1818
Died: 20 February 1895 (heart attack)
Birthplace: Near Easton, Maryland
Best known as: Former slave turned anti-slavery leader

Name at birth: Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey

Frederick Douglass was a former slave who became one of the great American anti-slavery leaders of the 1800s. Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland but in 1838, at age 20, he escaped to freedom in New York. A few years later he went to work for abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, travelling and speaking on behalf of Garrison's paper The Liberator. Douglass published his memoir Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in 1845. Eloquent, smart and determined, Douglass gained fame as a speaker, began his own anti-slavery publications and became a 'conductor' on the Underground Railroad. In later years he became a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln and helped persuade Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He also was a strong supporter of women's rights. He is often described as the founder of the American civil rights movement.

Extra credit: After his escape from slavery, Douglass chose his new last name from a character in the Sir Walter Scott book The Lady of the Lake... Douglass married Anna Murray, a free black woman, shortly after his escape from slavery in 1838. They had four children: Rosetta (b. 1839), Lewis (b. 1840), Frederick Jr. (b. 1842) and Charles (b. 1844). Anna Douglass died in 1882, and two years later Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white woman who had been his secretary.

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