Frederick Douglass was perhaps the first black man who had such a long and arduous climb which took him from slavery to some of the highest positions in the land wielding invested influence on not only the minds of many ordinary folks but also having much influence on Presidents. His name and legacies remain unforgettable as is seen in the many quotes attributed to him, the books written on him especially for children as well as the monuments to his honor.
Douglass served as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and fought for the adoption of constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties for blacks. He provided a powerful voice then that was championing human rights. He is still revered today for his contributions against racial injustice
After the Civil War, Douglass held several important political positions such as President of the Reconstruction-era Freedman's Savings Bank; marshall of the District of Columbia, President of the Colored National Labor Union, Recorder of Deeds in Washington, minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti (1889-1891), and chargé d'affaires for the Dominican Republic.
In 1872, he moved to Washington, D.C. after his house on South Avenue in Rochester, New York burned down with him losing among other items a complete issue of The North Star .
In 1868, Douglass supported the presidential campaign of Ulysses S. Grant who upon assuming power had the Klu Klux Klan Act and the second and third Enforcement Acts signed into law. President Grant. used their provisions vigorously, suspending provisions for habeas corpus in South Carolina and sending troops there and into other states; under his leadership. Over 5,000 arrests were made.The Ku Klux Klan was thus dealt a serious and devastating blow. Though Grant's vigor in disrupting the Klan made him unpopular among many whites, it won him Frederick Douglass' and other black's praise. An associate of Douglass wrote of Grant that African-Americans will have and cherish a grateful remembrance of his name, fame and great services.
Douglass' climb to greatness took a symbolical turn upwards when as a mark of the high esteem in which he was held in 1872, he became the first African American to receive a nomination for Vice President of the United States, having been nominated to be Victoria Woodhull's running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket without his knowledge. He neither campaigned for the ticket nor even acknowledged that he had been nominated.
Douglass spoke at many schools around the country in the Reconstruction era, including at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 1873.
In 1877, Douglass purchased his final home in Washington DC, on the banks of the Anacostia River and named it Cedar Hill. He expanded the house from 14 to 21 rooms and included a china closet. One year later, Douglass expanded it further to 15 acres, with the purchase of adjoining lots. The home is now the location of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
After the disappointments of Reconstruction, many African Americans, Exodusters, moved to Kansas to form all-black towns. Douglass spoke out against the movement, urging blacks to stick it out. But he was condemned and booed by black audiences.
In 1877, Douglass was appointed a United States Marshall and .then in 1881, he was appointed Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.
His wife Anna Murray Douglas died in 1882, leaving him in a state of depression which was only assuaged with his association with the activist Ida B. Wells who brought meaning back into his life. In 1884, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white feminist from Honeoye, New York, the daughter of Gideon Pitts, 1, an abolitionist colleague and friend. A graduate of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Pitts had worked on a radical feminist publication Alpha while living in Washington, DC. Frederick and Helen Pitts Douglass faced a storm of controversy as a result of their marriage, since she was white and nearly 20 years younger. Both families recoiled; hers stopped speaking to her; his was bruised, as they felt his marriage was a repudiation of their mother. But individualist feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton congratulated the two.
The new couple traveled to England, France, Italy, Egypt and Greece from 1886 to 1887. In later life, Douglass in a determination to ascertain his birthday adopted February 14th because his mother, Harriet Bailey, used to call him her "little valentine" . He was born in February of 1816 by his own calculations, but historians have found a record indicating his birth in February of 1818.
Douglass had five children; two of them, Charles and Rossetta, helped produce his newspapers. Douglass was an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
In 1892 the Haitian government appointed Douglass as its commissioner to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. He spoke for Irish Home Rule and on the efforts of Charles Stewart Parnell. He briefly revisited Ireland in 1886.
Until his death a quarter of a century later, Douglass used his great abilities to help his people achieve "a higher, broader and nobler mankind." In a multitude of capacities, Douglass contributed his energies towards that main purpose. He fought always for the dignity of his people, always emphasizing that exploitation against colored people was not a Negro problem but was in fact an American problem, or as he told the nation, "No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man, without at last finding the other end of it fastened about his own neck. "
He once wrote warning the American People that "the lesson which they must learn or neglect to do so at their own peril, is that Equal Manhood means Equal Rights, and that they must stand each for all and without for to color or race …. I expect to see the colored people of this country enjoying the same freedom, voting at the same ballot-box, using the same cartridge-box, going to the same schools, attending the same churches, traveling in the same street cars, in the same railroad cars, on the same steamboats, proud of the same country, fighting the same foe, and enjoying the same peace and all its advantages … "
But unfortunately Frederick Douglass did not live to see his hope realized.
On February 20, 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, DC during which he was brought to the platform and given a standing ovation by the audience, as if they knew that was his last public appearance. Shortly after returning home, he suffered a massive heart attack and died. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.
But today, even after more than a century of his death, the people have learnt and indeed are learning the lessons he taught. All over the world millions of people of all races, colors, creeds, and nationalities are moving forward together to achieve victory, enduring peace, security and freedom.
Frederick Douglass' words have never been as significant as they are today after the war had raised the question of Negro rights in the most acute form. Their vast contribution in the war effort have made it clearer everyday that victory, lasting peace and security cannot be achieved without the Negro peoples and without satisfying their just demands.
Below are the emblems of his greatness and everlasting significance in the form of quotes, children's books and films on him as well as monuments:
Famous quotes from Douglass:
o "I am a Republican a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress."
o "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."
o "To make a contented slave it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken the moral and mental vision and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason."
o "I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes – a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find
o "Without struggle, there is no progress."
o "[Lincoln was] the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color."
o "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will."
o "Once let the Black man get upon his person the brass letters US let him get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States. "
Books on Douglass For Young Readers:
o Miller, William. Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery . Illus. by Cedric Lucas. Lee & Low Books, 1995.
o Weidt, Maryann N. Voice of Freedom: a Story about Frederick Douglass . Illus. by Jeni Reeves. Lerner Publications, 2001.
Documentary Films on Douglass:
o Frederick Douglass [videorecording] / produced by Greystone Communications, Inc. for A&E Network; executive producers, Craig Haffner and Donna E. Lusitana .; 1997
o Frederick Douglass: when the lion wrote history [videorecording] / a co-production of ROJA Productions and WETA-TV; produced and directed by Orlando Bagwell; narration written by Steve Fayer .; c1994
o Frederick Douglass, abolitionist editor [videorecording] / a production of Schlessinger Video Productions, a division of Library Video Company; produced and directed by Rhonda Fabian, Jerry Baber; script, Amy A. Tiehel
o Race to freedom [videorecording]: the story of the underground railroad / an Atlantis Films Limited production in association with United Image Entertainment; produced in association with the Family Channel (US), Black Entertainment Television and CTV Television Network, Ltd. ; produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada, Ontario Film Development Corporation and with the assistance of Rogers Telefund; distributed by Xenon Pictures; executive producers, Seaton McLean, Tim Reid; co-executive producers, Peter Sussman, Anne Marie La Traverse; supervising producer, Mary Kahn; producers, Daphne Ballon, Brian Parker; directed by Don McBrearty; teleplay by Diana Braithwaite, Nancy Trites Botkin, Peter Mohan. Publisher Santa Monica, CA: Xenon Pictures, Inc., 2001. Tim Reid as Frederick Douglass.
Memorials to Frederick Douglass:
o Frederick Douglas National Historic Site The Washington, DC home of Frederick Douglass
o Frederick Douglass Gardens at Cedar Hill Frederick Douglass Gardens development & maintenance organization
o The Frederick Douglass Prize A national book prize sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition