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Douglass, Frederick
W. E. B. D.

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1930. "Douglass, Frederick." Dictionary of American Biography: Cushman – Eberle, Volume V, Edited by Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone (London: Humphrey Milford & Oxford University Press, 1930): pp.406-407.

Online Source:
The entire Volume V is accessible at the Internet Archive: download page.

R. Williams' Note:
"W.E.B.D." = "W. E. Burghardt DuBois" as listed in "Contributors to Volume V" (page vii).

DOUGLASS, FREDERICK (Feb. 1817?–Feb. 20, 1895), abolitionist, orator, journalist, was named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but assumed the name of Douglass after his escape from slavery. He was born at Tuckahoe near Easton, Talbot County, Md., the son of an unknown white father and Harriet Bailey, a slave who had also some Indian blood. As a child he experienced neglect and cruelty, indulgence and hard work; but particularly the tyranny and circumscription of an ambitious human being who was legally classed as real estate. He turned at last upon his cruelest master, and by fighting back for the first time, realized that resistance paid even in slavery. He was sent to Baltimore as a house servant and learned to read and write with the assistance of his mistress. Soon he conceived the possibility of freedom. The settlement of his dead master's estate sent him back to the country as a field hand. He conspired with a half dozen of his fellows to escape but their plan was betrayed and he was thrown into jail. His master's forbearance secured his return to Baltimore, where he learned the trade of a ship's calker and eventually was permitted to hire his own time. A second attempt to escape, Sept. 3, 1838, was entirely successful. He went to New York City; married Anna Murray, a free colored woman whom he had met in Baltimore, and together they went to New Bedford, where he became a common laborer.
Suddenly a career opened. He had read Garrison's Liberator, and in 1841 he attended a convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Nantucket. An abolitionist who had heard him speak to his colored friends asked him to address the convention. He did so with hesitation and stammering, but with extraordinary effect. Much to his own surprise, he was immediately employed as an agent to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. He took part in the Rhode Island campaign against the new constitution which proposed the disfranchisement of the blacks; and he became the central figure in the famous "One Hundred Conventions" of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. It was a baptism of fire and brought out the full stature of the man. He was mobbed and mocked, beaten, compelled to ride in "Jim Crow" cars, and refused accommodations; but he carried the programme through to the bitter end.
Physically, Douglass was a commanding person, over six feet in height, with brown skin, frizzly hair, leonine head, strong constitution, and a fine voice. Persons who had heard him on the platform began to doubt his story. They questioned if this man who spoke good English and bore himself with independent self-assertion could ever have been a slave. Thereupon he wrote his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass which Wendell Phillips advised him to burn. It was a daring recital of facts and Phillips feared that it might lead to his reenslavement. Douglass published the little book in 1845, however, and then, to avoid possible consequences, visited Great Britain and Ireland. Here he remained two years, meeting nearly all of the English Liberals. For the first time in his life he was treated as a man and an equal. The resultant effect upon his character was tremendous. He began to conceive emancipation not simply as physical freedom; but as social equality and economic and spiritual opportunity.
He returned to the United States in 1847 with money to buy his freedom and to establish a newspaper for his race. Differences immediately arose with his white abolitionist friends. Garrison did not believe such a journal was needed and others, even more radical, thought that the very buying of his freedom was condoning slavery. Differences too arose as to political procedure in the abolition campaign. In all these matters, however, Douglass was eminently practical. With all his intense feeling and his reasons for greater depth of feeling than any white abolitionist, he had a clear head and a steady hand. He allowed his freedom to be bought from his former master; he established the North Star and issued it for seventeen years. He lectured, supported woman suffrage, took part in politics, endeavored to help Harriet Beecher Stowe establish an industrial school for colored youth, and counseled with John Brown. When Brown was arrested, the Governor of Virginia tried to apprehend Douglass as a conspirator. Douglass hastily fled to Canada and for six months again lectured in England and Scotland.
With the Civil War came his great opportunity. He thundered against slavery as its real cause; he offered black men as soldiers and pleaded with black men to give their services. He assisted in recruiting the celebrated 54th and 55th Massachusetts colored regiments, giving his own sons as first recruits. Lincoln called him into conference and during Reconstruction, Douglass agitated in support of suffrage and civil rights for the freedmen. His last years were spent in ease and honor. He was successively secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, marshal and recorder of deeds of the District of Columbia, and finally United States minister to Haiti. His second marriage, in 1884, to Helen Pitts, a white woman, brought a flurry of criticism, but he laughingly remarked that he was quite impartial — his first wife "was the color of my mother, and the second, the color of my father." He was active to the very close of his career, having attended a woman-suffrage convention on the day of his death.
[The chief sources of information about Frederick Douglass are his autobiographies: The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), republished in England and translated into French and German; My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). The best biographies are: F. M. Holland, Frederick Douglass, the Colored Orator (1891); C. W. Chesnutt, Frederick Douglass (1899); Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass (1907). There are numerous references in W. P. and F. J. Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison 1805-1879 (4 vols., 1885-89), and throughout the literature of the abolition controversy. Many of Douglass's speeches have been published.]
* Frederick Douglass' works: Internet Archive; Google Books.
* Frederic May Holland, Frederick Douglass, The Colored Orator (1891): Internet Archive.
* Charles W. Chesnutt, Frederick Douglass (1899): Internet Archive.
* Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass (1907): Google Books.
* W.P. and F.J. Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison 1805-1879 (4 vols., 1885-1889): Internet Archive.
* The Library of Congress maintains an online collection of Douglass' papers, correspondence, and other sundry items: main page.
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