If Frederick Douglass had been born white in 19th-century America, he would be remembered as a self-made man in the style of Thomas Edison. In 20th-century America, postwar, he could have been a counselor to presidents, like James A Baker, or perhaps a media personality, even Walter Cronkite.

But he was born a slave, in Maryland in 1818, and he escaped to freedom and a life of voice and pen, thundering against slavery and for justice and the rights of African Americans and women – while becoming all those other things as well.

African American History, Black History, Slavery, Slave Narrative, Frederick Douglass, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN, Willoughby Avenue

His second wife, Helen, wrote of “the shining angel of truth by whose side I believe he was born, and by his side he unflinchingly walked through his life”. Indeed, Douglass seemed protected. He was taught to read (then a crime) by a white woman, Sophia Auld, in the family that enslaved him. He worked in Baltimore, was converted as a teenager to a strong personal faith, and taught himself oratory from sermons and books. In 1838 he escaped north, making a new life and taking a new surname, adapted from Sir Walter Scott.

As David Blight writes, “Douglass’ great gift … is that he found ways to convert the scars Covey [a slave master] left on his body into words that might change the world. His travail under Covey’s yoke became Douglass’ crucifixion and resurrection.”


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KOLUMN Magazine celebrates the lives of People of Color by giving our world texture.