A lot of ink has been spilled covering the lives of history's most influential figures, but how much of the forest is lost for the trees? In Charles River Editors' American Legends series, readers can get caught up to speed on the lives of America's most important men and women in the time it takes to finish a commute, while learning interesting facts long forgotten or never known.
With the possible exception of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., no African American has been more instrumental in the fight for minorities' civil rights in the United States than Frederick Douglass 1818-1895), an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. His list of accomplishments would be impressive enough even without taking into account the fact that he was born into slavery.
Douglass was born into slavery, and it's believed his father was a white man, even perhaps his master Aaron Anthony. When Douglass was about 12, his slaveowner's wife, Sophia Auld, began teaching him the alphabet in defiance of the South's laws against teaching slaves how to read. When her husband Hugh found out, he was furious, reminding her that if the slave learned to read, he would become dissatisfied with his condition and desire freedom. Those words would prove prophetic.
Douglass is noted as saying that "knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom," and he took that advice to heart, teaching himself how to read and write with his knowledge of the alphabet. On September 3, 1838, Douglass successfully escaped slavery, traveling by boat to Delaware, Philadelphia, and finally New York, all in the span of a day. Douglass found a "new world had opened upon me."
After escaping from slavery, Douglass became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining national notice for his dazzling oratory and anti-slavery writing. He stood out as the living embodiment of an intellectual former slave, the antithesis of slaveholders' arguments that blacks were an inferior race. Douglass remained active in the fight for civil rights and abolition throughout the Civil War and Reconstruction, even meeting President Lincoln and strongly urging him to let black men enlist in the Union. As Douglass constantly stated, nobody had more to fight for in the Civil War than black men.
Douglass continued his work all the way up to his death in 1895, continuing to advocate on behalf of blacks, women, immigrants and even Native Americans. Douglass famously said, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
Douglass remains well known today, but given the manner in which Jim Crow segregated and discriminated against minorities for another 60 years after his death, he is often overshadowed by the icons of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. American Legends: The Life of Frederick Douglass looks at Douglass's incredible life story of preservation and perseverance, explaining how the man who literally started with nothing became his people's Martin Luther King Jr. decades before King was born. Along with pictures of Douglass and other important people and events in his life, you will learn about America's first great Civil Rights leader like you never have before, in no time at all.