Frederick Douglass,perhaps the most influen¬ tial man of his century, was bom into great pover¬ ty. Bom on an unknown, date of an unknown father, Douglass lived on a Maryland plantation, with his mother, who was sent to a plantation 12 miles away each day. She could occasionally walk home in time to see him to bed, but she died when Douglass was only about seven years old.
Impoverished, hungry and parentless, Frederick stmggled to sur¬ vive, until the day he captured the attention * of his master’s daughter. Lucretia Auld had Douglass sent to Baltimore as her nephew’s companion, where he learned to read and write before Lucretia’s death left him without an ally.
Without her influence, Douglass was sent back to the plantation, and then to Baltimore to work the ship¬ yards. There he met his future wife, Anna Murray, a free woman who used her nine years worth of savings to pay for Douglass’ successful escape to New York.
Once in New York, he was introduced to v William Lloyd Garrison, and together they strengthened black resistance. Douglass was va popular speaker who mesmerized audi¬ ences with tales of his life in Maryland. He ^ finally wrote The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave to convince doubters who said he was far too ^ eloquent and mannered to have suffered the fate he explained.
With publication came recognition, and Douglass, who was constantly in fear of slave hunters, went to England as a lecturer, v The eloquence of his speeches won him immediate support and he was encouraged to stay on indefinitely, but Douglass’ commitment to African-Americans still in captivity forced him to return to America. His English supporters were so concerned about him that they bought his freedom, allowing him to return safely to the United States.
It was after his return to New York in 1847 that Douglass began publish¬ ing the famous North Star, named for the light that guided slaves through the night to safety. One of the most influential publications in history, The North Star, true to its name, united a generation of abolitionists and helped guide African-Americans toward a safer future.
^ Along with The North Star, Douglass^ used his skills as an orator and diplomat to influence American politics. vAs the Civil War developed, it was Douglas^ who con¬ vinced President Abraham Lincoln to free all slaves immediately so that they might enlist in the Union forces.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued, and Douglass became one of the main recruiters of free African-Americans in the Northern territories.) At the end of the Civil War, ‘Douglass saw a lifetime commitment rewarded with the abolition of slavery in America.
Until his death in 1895, Douglass contin¬ ued to focus on the problems of segregation and lynchings. He joined the crusade of Mary Church Terrell (see no. 28) and Ida Wells-Barnett (see no. 27) and maintained his reputation as “the foremost leader of the nineteenth century.” Also called “the father of the civil rights movement,” Frederick Douglass remains a model for new genera¬ tions of American heroes.