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Frederick Douglass

By The Gale Group – Born in Talbot County, Maryland, he was sent to Baltimore as a house servant at the age of eight, where his mistress taught him to read and write. Upon the death of his master he was sent to the country to work as a field hand. During his time in the South he was severely flogged for his resistance to slavery. In his early teens he began to teach in a Sunday school which was later forcibly shut down by hostile whites. After an unsuccessful attempt to escape from slavery, he succeeded in making his way to New York disguised as a sailor in 1838. He found work as a day laborer in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and after an extemporaneous speech before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society became one of its agents.

Douglass quickly became a nationally recognized figure among abolitionists. In 1845, he bravely published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which related his experiences as a slave, revealed his fugitive status and further exposed him to the danger of reenslavement. In the same year he went to England and Ireland, where he remained until 1847, speaking on slavery and women's right and ultimately raising sufficient funds to purchase his freedom. Upon returning to the United States he founded the North Star. In the tense years before the Civil War he was forced to flee to Canada when the governor of Virginia swore out a warrant for his arrest.

Douglas returned to the United States before the beginning of the Civil War and after meeting with President Abraham Lincoln he assisted in the formation of the 54th and 55th Negro regiments of Massachusetts. During Reconstruction he became deeply involved in the civil rights movement and in 1871 he was appointed to the territorial legislature of the District of Columbia. He served as one of the presidential electors-at-large for New York in 1872 and shortly thereafter became the secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission. After serving for a short time as the police commissioner of the District of Columbia, he was appointed marshal in 1871 and held the post until he was appointed the recorder of deeds in 1881. In 1890 his support of the presidential campaign of Benjamin Harrison won him his minister resident and consul general to the Republic of Haiti and later, the charge d'affaires of Santo Domingo. In 1891, he resigned the position in protest of the unscrupulous business practices of American businessmen. Douglass died at home in Washington, D.C.

Source: The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997.

Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

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