Frederick Douglass and His Contribution to African American History

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His whole life Frederick Douglass spent struggling against slavery, for equality and equal rights of all the US residents. He initiated this struggle with his eloquent speeches and journalist activities. He left a deep imprint in the American people consciousness of his time, making them think serious about the problem of slavery and equality. Frederick Douglass inspired further generations to follow his example.

He was not only a key figure in abolition movement with a striking personality, but also a great reformer, orator and publicist. Frederick Douglass struggled for the women’s rights, supported the suffrage movements and attended their conventions. He also struggled for the suffrage for all people regardless of their race or sex. Douglass’ desired to move constantly forward, to develop his knowledge and to achieve the set goals. His ability to face the problems and overcome the obstacles inspired me to choose him for my essay as a prominent figure in African American culture and political thought.

Frederick Douglass was born and lived in a controversial time of the US history. The country went through rather difficult period. Slavery and slaves uprisings, financial panic and depression, violent disorders, war between the U.S.  and  Mexico, the  Civil  War, Industrial  revolution  were  some  of  the most  dramatic  events  of  the  century.

Frederick was born around 1818, in the period of slavery. Once he came to his master’s Aulds’ house, his mistress, Mrs. Auld, started teaching him the alphabet and spelling. As soon as Mr. Auld found it out, he gave her a lecture on how slaves could become unnecessary when literate and dissatisfied with their position. From that moment, Douglass understood that knowledge was a “pathway from slavery to freedom” (Douglass 33). Without mistress’ help anymore, Douglass secretly started studying reading and writing. He learnt from the free children who were living near him. Reading newspapers, Douglass formed his own point of view on slavery and freedom; he found out the abolitionists movement. He wanted to be free instead of being in slavery during the whole life. What a great eagerness he had for studying and educating himself for becoming a literate! He taught other slaves in Sabbath school secretly as it was illegally. Teaching made him feel important to people and filled him with joy. His desire to stop slavery, desire for liberty and equality, grew stronger.

Another turning point of Douglass’ slavery life was his employment at Edward Covey’s house. This man whipped Douglass regularly, oppressed him and once made him run for complaint to his master. Even Frederick was almost injured psychologically, he rebuffed Covey. He couldn’t understand and bear one educated person whipping another, similar to him. His yearning for freedom and fighting for equality grew; he heartened up. If Douglass wasn’t an educated person, but an illiterate slave who has never read a word and has never heard about abolition, he would not respond to his master’s attacks. He would take these oppressions for granted.

Approaching his manhood, Douglass tried to escape, but failed. When he finally gained courage, he left his friends behind and headed for NY. The new experience and desire for freedom drove him forward. When Douglass came to New York, he wrote later about what he felt, “A new world had opened upon me” (250).

In NY Douglass began giving speeches on the anti-slavery issues. In 1843 the Anti-slavery Society decided “to hold a series of one hundred conventions in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania” (Douglass 280). They invited Frederick Douglass to assist those conventions. Not all of the states welcomed the abolitionists. Some people were not understanding; they mobbed the group, threw eggs  on  them and fought against  them.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies, each time extending the previous one. In 1845, he published the first bestseller book Narrativeof theLifeof Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. The book was reprinted and translated to several languages. The publication of the book revealed the relations between a slave and his master and gave frank confessions of a slave regarding his master. It could bring Douglass new problems, as officially he still was a slave. To avoid persecution, Douglass went to Britain and Ireland. This tour gave him a breath of fresh air. He really felt free and has never been gladder than being with  people treating him not as a black slave, but as an equal human being. He got a lot of friends and supporters who helped to buy him freedom from his master Thomas Auld. He gave lectures in Britain; he wanted to understand how Britain disposed of slavery and came to equality. This journey pushed him forward with his aspirations to make America a better place to live. Though his supporters tried to persuade him to stay in Britain, Douglass wanted to implement his ideas and plans on making America a free country. 

After coming back to America in 1847, Douglass started publishing and editing in the periodical The North Star,later calledFrederick Douglass’ Paper, as well as in the magazine Douglass’Monthly. The papers were funded mainly by supporters in England (Ruuth 118). These periodicals were the only abolitionist publications in the USA edited by the former slave. They served an inspiring example for African American editors and publishers.

The Civil War was seen by Douglas as the beginning of the end of slave history. By that time he was already a well-known African American orator. Though the government didn’t support his positions, he gave speeches all over the North, declaring and strongly believed, “the mission of the war was the liberation of the slave” (Douglass 410).

During the war Douglas endeavored to do all he could to put the slavery to an end. He spoke and wrote letters to the government for black slaves could serve in the army along with the white men, for the equality in their loyalty to the country. He spoke to president Lincoln on this issue. At last, on January 1st, 1863, president Lincoln made a formal speech on emancipation proclamation.

During the Reconstruction era Douglass again was struggling for the equality, giving lectures in colleges throughout the country, continuing to outline the significance of the suffrage for men and women, black and white.

Following 14th and 15th Amendments in 1868 and 1870 correspondingly, gave the African American people rights for the protection and voting as the US citizens.

In his speech in 1894, Douglass foresaw the outcome of his life struggle for equality and people’s rights. He said, “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me” (Douglass).

Outstanding people, inspired by his example, proceeded solving the problems of equality of the US citizens. Undoubtedly, Douglass’ attempts to change the system in his country were successful and the goals he set were achieved. Douglass’ contribution into African American culture and the American consciousness is great. He showed that people could struggle for what they believe in and succeed. 

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