Frederick Douglass: A Novel

Frederick Douglass: A Novel

by Sidney Morrison
Frederick Douglass: A Novel

Frederick Douglass: A Novel

by Sidney Morrison

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Frederick Douglass was the most prominent African American of the 19th Century and Sidney Morrison has created a mesmerizing historical novel richly detailing his life and the Civil War Era. 

This portrayal of Douglass distinguishes him as one of the founders of American democracy instrumental in ending the institution of slavery from which he escapes to become a fierce abolitionist, gifted orator, and newspaper publisher of The North Star. Douglass collaborates with William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and the Underground Railroad, as well as Presidents Abraham Lincoln to Grover Cleveland and becomes the first African American to hold esteemed political positions such as U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia and Minister to Haiti.

What makes this portrayal of Douglass unique is that it takes readers beyond the public persona by also detailing the women in his life: Anna Murray Douglass, instrumental to his escape, becomes his wife and the mother to his five children; English abolitionist, Julia Griffith, works with Douglass until a scandalized community whispers about an extramarital affair and she returns to England; German journalist, Ottilie Assing, dies by suicide after years of waiting for Douglass to marry her and instead he marries a white abolitionist 20 years his junior, Helen Pitts, following Anna’s death. These stories are central to understanding the great man as a fully complex human whose life was rich in conflict, drama, and suspense. 

Frederick Douglass dedicated his life to racial equality and this novel is an homage to him as a significant figure in U.S. and African American History.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780998825793
Publisher: Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/18/2024
Pages: 680
Sales rank: 483,216
Product dimensions: 9.60(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Sidney Morrison was born in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles with his wife Karan. He is a retired teacher and school principal (elementary, middle and high school, one of the few serving as principal at all three levels), and now a part time educational consultant and leadership coach for school leaders in school districts in Southern California. He also provides professional development in workshops about ethical leadership and diversity/equity issues in schools. 

Before retiring he worked in the public schools for 36 years serving as a History and English teacher, then as an assistant principal and principal. Elected to the Board of Directors of the Association of California School Administrations, representing the LA south bay area, he was then elected as state president for 1998-1999. He is proud of ACSA’s recognition of his leadership through two major awards. He is also proud of the Bronze Star earned as a medical corpsman assisting the wounded in a minefield during the Vietnam War

Read an Excerpt

No part of the past is dead or indifferent.




History is not the past. It is the present.

We carry our history with us.

We are our history.—JAMES BALDWIN

“BOY, YOU’RE NO SLAVE,” shouted the old white man who stood in the fifth row, interrupting Frederick with a voice so deep it should not have come from a slanted, withered body. “You’re just another lying, big-headed nigger.”A few in the audience gasped, but no heads turned to investigate or condemn, as if the old man had been appointed to say what the others were thinking.

A young, wiry man with a bulbous nose stood. “Yes, prove it! You sure don’t talk like one.”

Frederick’s neck veins throbbed against his crisp shirt collar and cravat; he didn’t know what to say. He was usually quick to respond to verbal affronts with sarcastic remarks or pointed questions, but now he took a deep breath, lifted his wide chest, and glared at the hundreds who packed the town hall that Sunday afternoon in Massachusetts.

He waited.

Still wearing the dark coats and frocks required for the morning’s church service, the people before him sat on benches with backs in rigid formation, a field of jutting rocks. Beyond the closed windows, the red, yellow, and gold leaves shimmered in the sunlight.

Rage reddened the face of the young man, and he looked around, agitated by the silence. “Prove it,” he yelled. “Prove it!”

Now ignited, the audience began to chant, “Prove it.” And as the chant swelled to a chorus of shouting and stomping feet, the customary reserve of New Englanders was unmasked to reveal the brutality of mobs, the faces of witch-burners, the crowd that chased William Lloyd Garrison in Boston.

Frederick smirked.

After three years as a lecturer, discovered by Garrison and other white abolitionists during an antislavery convention on Nantucket Island, Frederick had told his story countless times throughout New England, noticing surprise and suspicion in whites, overhearing the whispered comments about his yellow skin, his articulate speech. But before today he had never been confronted about his past with such raw effrontery.

He wanted to shout them all down with his bass–baritone voice. Frederick had learned to use this powerful instrument and could chastise like the best preachers or curse like a dockworker.

Frederick knew what he had to do. A shouted denunciation like the jeremiads of the Old Testament he quoted often, another story with more graphic details of his past, more revelations of the emotional pain he felt as a child— none of these would not satisfy the demands for proof. He needed to shock the audience, force their silence, destroy the last vestiges of doubt.

Frederick started to unbutton his overcoat. With every button, he recalled the snide remarks, the contemptuous questions, the mocking surprises: Where did the abolitionists find him? His white father explains his intelligence. Who does he think he is, talking like a white man? Even some of his white antislavery col- leagues had suggested that he speak less formally and add plantation talk to his narratives for greater authenticity.

He unbuttoned his waistcoat and thought, How dare you presume to judge me. I am your equal. No, I am better.

Frederick deliberately folded his coats before he placed them on the chair behind him. He took the suspenders off his thick shoulders, leaving them as dangled hoops on his hips, and pulled at the tail of his shirt after releasing the lower buttons. Wanting no interference, he avoided the widening eyes and gripped hands of the meeting chairman, James Buffum, whose Quaker reserve was as tight as the cravat around his neck.

“Friend Douglass, what are you doing?” asked Buffum, motionless as he stared, at the nearby table.

“I’ll show them.” He said to Buffum. Frederick’s face was hot. He was sure that the ridge across the top of his nose, scars from injuries long ago, bulged.

“No,” said Buffum, “The ladies . . .” “Let them see,” said Frederick. A few men pulled their female companions’ arms, ushering them out. Most people remained transfixed as Frederick, gathering and lifting the folds of his shirt, turned around to show the work of the slave breaker Edward Covey, who was hired to crush his spirit and almost drove him to suicide. Frederick was fifteen, his lacerations the stories of an unforgettable year at a remote farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.Exposing the gashes healed by thick lard, Frederick pulled his shirt as high as he could and held it there for what seemed an eternity. He counted the thirty seconds as he stared ahead, hearing the pounding of his heart, feeling the sweat of his brow, holding his breath as he clenched his teeth and felt the shocked silence. The doubting old man then started to applaud. The singular clapping of his hands crackled like snapping wood in the silent hall. Another man clapped, and then another. Soon there was a standing ovation and shouted cheers. “Hear, hear!”

“Yes, sir!”

Frederick turned his head to the right and grinned, enjoying Buffum’s open- mouthed surprise as much as the deafening noise. He quickly tucked in his shirt and put on his coats before turning.

He waited for absolute silence, staring at three stone-faced men with folded, defiant arms at the back of the room. One of them lowered his arms, but still Frederick waited, demanding the capitulation of the other two.

The second man lowered his arms. Then the third. Only then did Frederick return to the exact place where he had stopped and continue his well-rehearsed speech. He concluded with his now famous parody of southern preachers defending slavery. “Oh, if you wish to be happy in time, happy in eternity, you must be obedient to your masters, their interest is yours,” he intoned, enjoying his mastery of mimicry developed in childhood. “God made one portion of men to do the working, and another to do the thinking. Now you have no trouble or anxiety. But ah, you can’t imagine how perplexing it is to your masters and mistresses to have so much thinking, to do on your behalf. Oh, how grateful you and obedient to your masters! How beautiful are the arrangements of Providence! Look at your hard, horny hands—see how nicely they are adapted to the labor you have to perform. Look at our delicate fingers, so exactly fitted for our station, and see how manifest it is that God designed us to be this His thinkers, and you the workers—Oh, the wisdom of God.”

Frederick knew his audiences. With laughter and applause, white Methodists, Baptists, and Congregationalists relished their superiorities. Southerners were the true Christian hypocrites.

Nevertheless, Frederick believed he had debased himself. The lifting of his shirt was vulgar and melodramatic, unworthy of a gentleman; it reminded him of the slave block where slaves were examined for physical assets and liabilities. He had successfully rebuked these New Englanders, but he knew he would never reveal his scars again. With no bill of sale, he had to find another way to prove himself. Legally, he was still a fugitive.

Frederick’s credibility was now a matter of open discussion in The Liberator. One correspondent wrote, “Many persons in the audience seemed unable to credit the statements which he gave of himself and could not believe that he was actually a slave. How a man, only six years out of bondage, and who had never gone to school a day in his life, could speak with such eloquence, with such precision of language, and power of thought, they were utterly at a loss to devise.”

After three years standing before the white public, Frederick could tolerate the whispered suspicions, the innuendo, the gossip shared by colleagues. But printed suspicion made his situation intolerable. He needed to respond in kind because he understood the power of the printed word, the fear it inspired, the hope it nurtured. As a youth, Frederick had dared to teach adult slaves how to read, creating a school in the forest of the Eastern Shore, and was almost lynched for it. Print mattered. A book could change the world.

Frederick knew what to do: write an autobiography and name family members, masters, and plantations. He would tell everything except the details of his escape and put the entire matter to rest. There was no other choice. All he had was his word. His career as a legitimate antislavery agent was at stake.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey Douglass had a book to write.

Table of Contents




PART I: 1836–1845

Anna Murray Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison


PART II: 1824–1836

The Baileys, the Anthonys, the Aulds, and the Lloyds of Maryland


PART III: 1845–1861

Julia Griffiths and John Brown


PART I V : 1862–1877

Ottilie Assing and Abraham Lincoln


PART  V : 1862–1877

Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Rutherford B. Hayes


PART VI : 1877–1887

Helen Pitts and The Douglass Family





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