#BlackHistoryMonth: Frederick Douglass (and Donald Trump)

History Hit

2 mins

05 Jun 2018

“Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed”  – The Hill

During Black History Month, Donald Trump praised African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). As Dana Milbank has pointed out, however, the President’s use of the present perfect – ‘who’s done’ – might suggest Trump thought Douglass was alive.

‘Douglass has long occupied a revered place in American history: escaped slave, iconic abolitionist, world-renowned author and publisher and counselor to presidents’. – Dana Milbank, Washington Post

In case President Trump is reading this, and does indeed need some enlightenment, we have gathered some of the most striking facts about Douglass, who was honoured – in a very modern way – in Epic Rap Battles of History.

From the Lion’s Den: the Journey of Frederick Douglass

Being able to read and write – later producing three autobiographies – Douglass (then with Bailey as his surname) taught his fellow slaves, to the ire of slave owners (source: 1|2)

At the age of 16, Douglass fought Edward Covey, a farmer with the reputation of being a ‘slavebreaker’, forcing Covey to cease his violent abuse of him (source: 1|2)

In 1838, via the help and with money from free-born African American, Anna Murray (his future wife), Douglass escaped from slavery dressed as a sailor, arriving in New York City after a journey of less than a day’s duration (source: 1|2|3|). He would later write:

‘In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil’ Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (source: 1 & 2)

Arriving in NYC as Bailey, Frederick took the surname Douglass after asking fellow abolitionist Nathaniel Johnson for a suggestion. Johnson, inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s Lady in the Lake, suggested that of one of the poem’s protagonists (source: 1| 2| 3| 4|5). Continuing the Scottish literary connection, Douglass was a fan of Robert Burns (to the extent of a ‘man crush’), visiting Burns’ Cottage in 1846 and writing about it (source: 1|2|3|4)

Becoming an anti-slavery lecturer in the years after 1838, Douglass suffered a broken hand in 1843 when he was attacked in Indiana during the ‘Hundred Conventions’ tour (source: 1|2)

To avoid re-enslavement (his exposure grew with publication of his first autobiography in 1845), Douglass travelled to Britain and Ireland, giving abolitionist speeches. While there, his freedom was bought, allowing him to return to the US as a free man in 1847 (source: 1|2).

A defender of women’s rights, Douglass attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, speaking to say it was self-evident that everyone should have the vote (source: 1|2|3)

Douglass argued both for post-Civil War emancipation and the vote, and recruited African Americans for the Union army; Douglass met with Lincoln – a fellow Burns admirer – in 1863 to seek equal terms for African American soldiers, but would remain ambivalent about the President’s attitude to race relations, even after Lincoln’s assassination (source: 1|2|3|4|5|6).