BlackFacts Details

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was a former slave and human rights activist, as well as the first African American to hold a high ranking U.S. government position. He was born into slavery; the exact date of his birth is not known but it is estimated to be around 1818. He was raised by his maternal grandmother, and at a young age, was sent to live on his father’s farm, who was a plantation owner. He then moved to Baltimore to live at the home of Hugh Auld. Here, he learned to read with the help of Auld’s wife. When Auld forbade his wife to teach Douglass, he enlisted the help of the local white children.

Douglass became an avid reader and it was through this medium that he expanded his political and moral horizons. He read whatever he could get his hands on – newspapers, political journals and books. When he was hired out to another owner named William Freeland, he taught the children on the new plantation to read the New Testament at a weekly church service. His classes became so popular that some local slave owners tried to break his lessons up by beating the children. He was then sold to a new owner named Edward Covey, who mistreated and abused the young Douglass so harshly that he almost had a psychological breakdown. In one particularly harsh fight, Douglass defeated Covey, who never dared to lay a hand on him again.

Douglass managed to escape his life of slavery with the help of a free black woman named Anna Murray. In 1838, she acquired a sailor’s uniform and personal documentation for him, and Douglass boarded a train to New York. Anna later joined him and the two married, assuming the name of Johnson to protect Douglass’s identity. The couple then moved to Massachusetts and adopted the name of Douglass, settling in the free and thriving black community there. In Massachusetts, Douglass joined the local church and regularly attended abolitionist meetings. His story was narrated in the newspaper “The Liberator” by William Lloyd Garrison. Douglass then delivered his first speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery