Frederick Douglas is arguably my favourite person in the African-American History.
He was a brilliant writer, a powerful orator and a famous anti slavery activist.
Born as a slave, Douglass never knew his exact date of birth, never knew his father and never saw his mother after the age of 7.
He was exposed to the degradations of slavery, witnessing firsthand brutal whippings and spending much time cold and hungry.
Although born enslaved, he taught himself to read as a teenager.
His desire for freedom only grew through literacy and after experiencing physical violence.
He finally managed to escape by fleeing to New York disguised as a sailor in 1838 and married a free Black woman (Anna Murray) he was in love with prior to his escape.
Douglass became very active in the anti-slavery movement and joined the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as a public speaker.
He then went on to become an editor, recruiter for the Union Army, bank president, minister and consul general to Haiti.
Many consider Douglass an important literary figure as well because he published countless speeches and three autobiographies:
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881 and 1882).
In fact, his first autobiography became a bestseller and it is considered a “required reading” for many of today’s high school students.
Right after this book was published, Douglass became a celebrity.
I read this book last year and was really moved by the courage this guy has displayed all his life.
Douglass knew that this book would endanger his freedom as a runaway slave.
And that forced Douglass to depart for Ireland, where he would spend two years speaking of the ills of slavery.
Douglass also frequently spoke in England, where a group of his supporters collected funds to purchase his freedom.
By 1847, Douglass was a free man and returned to the United States.
If you know me, you know that I have this ability to sense people's natural gifts and their zone of genius.
When I read Douglass' book, I could imagine and feel what he was really good at.
He had this natural gift for communication.
He was eloquent.
He was charismatic.
He was theatrical and was even funny.
And everything began to change when he first used this gift in front of American public.
Through his gifts he communicated a firsthand experience about the brutality that he had suffered, endured, and survived while enslaved.
In 1872, he became the first African-American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States.
He never became a politician but he spoke to presidents as an equal.
With the arrival of the Civil War, Douglass rose to a level of such prominence that he consulted with President Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln always admired Douglass.
And Douglass coaxed Lincoln into taking a stand against the mistreatment of African American soldiers.
Did you know that Douglass was photographed more than President Lincoln, President Ulysses Grant and General Custer??
He said “I never want to look like a happy, amiable, fugitive slave. And when you look at a picture of me, you’re never going to deny that I’m a man worthy of freedom, worthy of citizenship.”
He saw photographs as a means to challenge stereotypes of black people.
After the War, Douglass fought for the rights of women and African Americans alike.
I imagine him as a prophet who could see a better future that lay just beyond reach.
His talents were nothing short of extraordinary and he put his exceptional gifts to use in the service of freedom, driving American slavery into the grave.
I still remember his words from a speech he gave in 1893 when he was getting booed from the crowd.
He said, "There is No Negro Problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own constitution."
His skills as an orator were incredibly influential.
Douglass defended equality and freedom until the day he died - literally.
He passed away in 1895 on his way to a political convention and left behind an enduring legacy that remains one of the more inspiring and influential tales in American history.
If you ever get a chance to read his story, I suggest you get your hands on his first autobiography The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845).
Trust me you would be impressed by this guy’s personality.
And I I ever get a chance, I would love to make a movie on Frederick Douglass.
Putting it in my bucket list right now.