Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was separated from his mother while an infant. At the age of eight, he was sent to live in Baltimore with the family of Hugh Auld, whose wife defied state law and surreptitiously taught young Frederick to read. This knowledge would later help him to become a prevailing advocate for civil rights.
Frederick fled to freedom in 1838, changing his surname to Douglass to avoid slave hunters. In 1841, Douglass was invited to describe his experiences as a former slave, and was picked by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to be a featured speaker. To counter skeptics who doubted a slave could be so articulate, Douglass published his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1845. The book became a bestseller, and within three years it was reprinted nine times and translated into French and Dutch. Using donations and proceeds from his book, Douglass purchased his freedom and started his own anti-slavery newspaper, the North Star.
During the Civil War, Douglass became a consultant to President Abraham Lincoln, fighting for constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties for blacks. After the war he served in several diplomatic posts, becoming the first black citizen to hold high rank in the U.S. government and the first African-American vice-presidential candidate in U.S. history.
Considered one of the country’s greatest speakers, Douglass provided African-Americans with a powerful voice for human rights. He continues to be revered to this day for his contributions to the fight against racial injustice.
Douglass learned the alphabet from the wife of his last master, Sophie Auld. Her teachings violated a Maryland law forbidding slaves to learn how to read or write.
In 1845, Frederick Douglass published his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. The book was an instant bestseller, but his friends feared his success would jeopardize his freedom. To avoid capture, Douglass traveled to the United Kingdom to conduct a tour and lecture.
In 1848, Douglass became the only African-American to attend the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York.
During the Civil War, Douglass served as a consultant to President Abraham Lincoln. He pushed the president to make the war a confrontation against slavery, and advocated that the former slaves be allowed to fight in the Union Army for their freedom.
In 1872, Frederick Douglass was nominated for vice-president by the Equal Rights Party on a ticket headed by presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull.
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