Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey) went down in history as one of the most famous and influential African-American leaders of the 19th century. He was an abolitionist, a revolutionary democrat, one of the main figures of the African-American freedom movement. In the XIX century, F. Douglas was not only “the most famous African-American”, but also the second after Abraham Lincoln most famous American in the world, representing the democratic America (Smith 60). Douglass’s personality is very prominent. Having become a recognized leader of his people, he had a mature mind of the thinker and statesman. He was characterized by love for his people and the breadth of thought of human opened for the world.
Acquired as a result of hard work, knowledge connected with great life experience. His exceptional talent of writer, journalist, and speaker, combined with hard work, enormous energy, and organizational skills, brought him fame. These qualities as well as his courage and fortitude attracted to him the most outstanding people of the age. He met three times with A. Lincoln, was close friends with James Brown, spoke with leaders of abolitionist movement and the movement for women’s rights, was in correspondence with the state and public officials, editors of periodicals, priests, and writers (Martin 219, 221). His active, creative energy and multi-talented nature contributed to his becoming the epicenter of the main events of American history and culture in the XIX century. His personality, spiritual heritage and creativity had an enormous influence on the mentality and culture of African Americans in the XX century.
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. From the early years, the boy lived and worked in the family of farmers, one of whom possibly was his father. Later, he was transferred to the family of Hugh Old, which, ignoring a ban on teaching slaves to read and write, taught the boy the alphabet. He acquired other useful skills by watching the children of owners. He shared his knowledge with other slaves, conducting lessons in reading. However, not all slave owners welcomed this initiative: meetings were often broken up with clubs and stones. Once Douglass was sent to work for Edward Cowie, where the young man did not get anything but constant psychological and physical humiliation (Cowie indulged in severe beating of slaves). In his attempt to escape to freedom, Douglass succeeded only from the third time. In 1838, he managed to escape to the North. He was helped by a woman from Baltimore, who later became his wife. On arrival in Massachusetts, he was a common worker. In 1841, Douglass took part in the anti-slavery society meeting of the state, where he attracted the attention of the members of the convention and soon became a leader of the anti-slavery movement in New England (Huggins 174, 178).
In 1845, he published his autobiography, titled “The Story of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave”, describing the horrors of slavery. The book became very popular in the United States and was translated into several European languages. Later, it was twice rewritten by the author, as he was adding some refinements and important details. As a result, two of his publications saw the light: “My Life in Slavery and in Freedom” (1855) and “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass” (1881/2). Douglas wrote, “The government gives nothing without pressure on it, never gave and never give up. Find out what people are willing to submit to, and you’ll know exactly what they are being subjected to injustice, how much harm is caused to them, and it will continue for as long as they do not express their anger in words or in deeds. Limit of the power of tyrants is determined by the level of patience of those whom they oppress” (Frederick Douglass 21).
However, after the publication, it became known that Douglass was a fugitive slave. Fearing the prospect of being turned back into a slave, Douglass decided to go to Ireland, where he planned to give lectures on the topic of slavery in America. A few years later, with the help of English Quakers, Douglass was able to collect enough money to buy his freedom and to return to America already in the status of a free man. When he returned home and settled in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass took up journalistic activities. He began publishing the abolitionist newspaper “The North Star”, the motto of which was: “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren”. He also took an active part in the organization of black slaves escaping to the North and to Canada by the secret “underground railroad” (Takaki 31). Douglas developed a program to provide the black population of the country with more political and civil rights, especially the right to elect and be elected along with white Americans. He then consistently fought for its implementation after the abolition of slavery. He actively participated in the organization of the annual “Congress of the Negro People”, presided over the Congress of Colored People in Syracuse in October 1864, and was the author of a policy document – Congress appeals to the people of the United States “Cause of the Negro People”. He presided over the first truly national congress of the Negro people of the United States in 1869.
Douglass was a prominent American human rights activist and reformer. One of the first he supported the women’s movement for equal rights, including the right to vote. He took an active part in the first congress of members of the women’s movement in the United States in July 1848 (Seneca Falls, NY), which adopted the Declaration of independence of women, known as the Declaration of public opinion. With one of the twelve resolutions giving women the right to vote, the Congress initiated the modern women’s movement. In support of the Congress, on July 28, 1848, Douglass in his newspaper “North Star” article “Women’s Rights” defended women’s equality with men by saying, “Our principle – the right does not depend on gender” (McFeely 283).Throughout his life, Douglass as a reformist worked closely with the leaders of the women’s movement and was their active ally. On the very last day of his life, on February 20, 1865, he took part in the second session of the National Women’s Council.
Douglass is a key figure in the abolitionist movement, the African-American press, journalism, and literature. All the powers of his extraordinarily gifted nature, courage, fortitude, exceptional writing talent, and rich experience allowed Douglass to contribute to the fight for the complete abolition of slavery and its consequences. In autumn of 1847, in the pages of “National Antislavery Standard” and “Rams Horn”, he published the “Prospectus of anti-slavery newspaper “North Star”. Douglas felt it was time to be filled with his “dream – to see in the owning and selling slaves, hating blacks country print shop and newspaper created by victims of slavery and oppression …” (McFeely 296). The newspaper, founded by people of his race, was to educate blacks, to intensify their struggle, and to influence public opinion more effectively than the publication of white abolitionists. In addition, he considered an important argument in the criticism of racism intellectual and creative activity of black editors and authors, indicating that African Americans have the talent for it no less than whites do.
Douglas put a truly heroic effort to “North Star” and “Douglass Monthly” not cease to exist because of lack of money. He invested in them 12 thousand dollars earned by delivering of lectures to the whole North, mortgaged the house.
It was the only abolitionist publications in the U.S., editor of which was the former slave. He was also the principal author of the authoritative publications, the pages of which led an uncompromising struggle against slavery in the South and racial discrimination in the North as a social and moral sickness of America. In this fight, Douglas-publicist has successfully used a variety of genres, articles, open letters, pamphlets, notes, addresses, speeches, reports, news reports, reviews.
It should be noticed that F. Douglass began his journalistic activities in abolitionist publications with letters exposing slavery. His first open letter was published in the “Liberator” in November 1842. While in the 1845 – 1847 years in England, he regularly sent out letters to the press. He published in the pages of “North Star”, “Frederick Douglass Paper”, “Monthly Douglass” letters of not only educated, but uneducated people of his race, giving them the opportunity to express their point of view, encouraging them to work on themselves, to educate themselves. Largely for the education and development of the people his newspaper was created.
Although the first newspaper of black Americans had appeared 20 years before the “Northstar” of Douglass, his role in the creation of Afro-American press was extremely high.
“North Star” and “Douglass Monthly” became the standard of periodical, an inspiring example for other Afro-American publishers and journalists, who came to journalism after him. He would sometimes say the old Union outlived itself, that there should be no focus on the restoration of the dissolved union, but a qualitatively new union, “in which there would not be the division between North and South, East and West, black and white, and will be unity of the nation, which made every slave free and every free voter” (Bullock 4), which we see today, and not only in the United States. Human life is proclaimed by the UN as the highest value, and the human rights are enshrined in the Declaration which was ratified by many countries of the world. In conclusion, there is considerable merit of fighters for the abolition of slavery, one of the outstanding representatives of which was Frederick Douglass.