Frederick Douglass was born into Maryland slavery in 1817 to a slave mother and a slave master father. Young Douglass toiled on a rural plantation and later in Baltimore’s shipyards as a caulker. Douglass, however, learned to read and soon sought out abolitionist literature that alleviated what he termed the graveyard of his mind. He eventually escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1838, and took the surname Douglass, which he borrowed from the Scottish romance novel, Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. Douglass’s wife, Anna, followed with their five children. She worked as a laborer in a New Bedford shoe factory while Douglass became a world renowned anti-slavery orator.
Douglass published his slave experiences in 1845 entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself. Having publicly declared himself a fugitive slave, Douglass fled to the British Isles to continue his outspoken campaign against American slavery. After two years of lecturing in England, Scotland, and Ireland, Douglass’s freedom was purchased by abolitionist friends and he returned to the United States a free man. Upon his return in 1847, Douglass began his first newspaper, The North Star which later became Frederick Douglass’ Paper.
Douglass’s life spanned important decades of American history in which the contradictions of race, class and gender were debated. Douglass played a crucial role in those debates. He spoke out against Northern race prejudice as well as Southern slavery. He challenged segregated Sabbaths--either white or black and criticized the race prejudice of immigrant labor organizations which excluded black freemen. Douglass once remarked that his son could more easily become an apprentice in a Boston law firm than in any workingman’s organization. Even while realizing this fact, Douglass became a strong advocate of industrial trade school education for the black workingman. In 1848 Douglass was the only male speaker at the Seneca Falls, New York convention in which Elizabeth Cady