On This Day: Douglass Speaks

On August 11, 1841, Frederick Douglass stood at a meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and told his story. It was this speech that would launch his career as a prominent abolitionist. After this appearance, the Anti-Slavery Society invited him to work with them and planned for him to travel and tell his story to as many people as would listen. Within a few years, Douglass became an internationally famous orator, writer, and advocate for social justice.  

Douglass was born a slave around the year 1818 in the state of Maryland. As a child, he was given some lessons in reading despite the fact that it was illegal to teach a slave to read. He continued his lessons in secret. Like all slaves, Douglass was abused physically and emotionally until he escaped to New York City in 1838. As he lived, married, worked, and attempted to avoid slave catchers, Douglass continued to read. He was inspired by the writings of abolitionists. This, combined with the urging of a Quaker friend, was what inspired him to attend the Anti-Slavery Society’s meeting.  

Though Douglass had not anticipated speaking that night and had not prepared remarks, it was reported that “. . .  cold [hearts] melted by his eloquence.” He was immediately invited to be an agent for the society. They sent him all over the country to tell his story and urge nonviolent resistance of slavery. In 1845, Douglass published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. The book was a success in the US as well as Europe. This success put him in the public eye and made it dangerous for him to remain in the US. He traveled to the UK, speaking and promoting the ideals of abolition, until his English supporters raised enough money to buy his freedom.  

Upon returning to the US, he spent the rest of his life as an advocate. He was an advisor to President Lincoln, a strong proponent of the Fourteenth Amendment, a supporter of women’s rights, a US Marshal, and a newspaper owner. As long as Frederick Douglass drew breath, he never stopped pushing for the enfranchisement of every American under the US Constitution.

Learn more here:  

  1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-Douglass
  2. https://time.com/6148114/frederick-douglasss-abolitionist-book/
  3. https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/frederick-douglass-first-addresses-white-audience.html

  Buy Frederick Douglass’ books from an independent bookstore here: https://bookshop.org/search?keywords=frederick+douglass