Frederick Douglass - One of the most prominent figures of African American
An ex-slave, orator, newspaper editor, and leader, Frederick Douglass is among the most
well-known of all American labor activists.
Douglass was born in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1817, the son of an unknown white
father and Harriet Bailey, a slave. Growing up, Douglass worked as a field laborer and as
a young adult learned the ship-caulking trade. He successfully escaped bondage on
September 3, 1838, and headed north.
In 1841, Douglass became involved in the activities of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery
Society and became a popular anti-slavery orator. He participated in the successful
campaign in Rhode Island against a new constitution which would have disfranchised
black voters. After the publication of his autobiographical Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass in 1845, he spent two years in England and Ireland, fearing that the
publicity accompanying publication of his book would result in his re-enslavement. He
returned to the U.S. in 1847 and arranged for the purchase of his freedom.
Douglass began publication of the North Star, a newspaper for blacks, in 1847. Eight
years later, he was accused by the governor of Virginia of conspiring with John Brown to
raid the arsenal at Harper's Ferry in West Virginia. After the outbreak, he assisted in the
recruitment of black regiments from Massachusetts.
After the war, Douglass turned his attention to the plight of the newly emancipated black
worker and in 1868, became the vice president of the National Colored Labor Union. He
was appointed Secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission in 1871, serving until 1877.
He also served as U.S. marshal, recorder of deeds of the District of Columbia, and was
U.S. Minister to Haiti.
Douglass is famous for many quotes that are commonly used today. Some of his most
“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who
want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and
lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.”
"Without struggle, there is no progress."