Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass
Airdate January 31, 2009
Curriculum Social Studies

Frederick Douglass launched in BrainPOP Social Studies January 31, 2009.


Moby brings Tim his finished autobiography, but upon reading it, Tim discovers that he really just copied out Frederick Douglass's autobiography.




FYI ComicsEdit

Trivia Edit

  • Frederick Douglass’s birth name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He changed it after he escaped from slavery, to prevent his old owners from finding and capturing him. The name “Douglass” was taken from a poem by Scottish author Walter Scott.
  • Although Douglass never knew who his father was, he suspected that it was Aaron Anthony, the white man who owned his mother.
  • Douglass participated in the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, the first women’s rights convention held in the United States.
  • In 1872, Douglass was nominated for vice president by the Equal Rights Party, which nominated feminist Victoria Woodhull for President. Douglass did not campaign for office or even acknowledge that he’d been nominated.
  • Douglass did not officially become a free man until 1845. That year, a group of friends in Great Britain raised money to pay off his original owners. The necessary sum was $710.96.
  • During the 1850s, Douglass’s home in Rochester, NY became a major stop on the Underground Railroad, and Douglass fed and sheltered hundreds of escaped slaves who were attempting to reach freedom in Canada.
  • The Washington, D.C. home where Frederick Douglass lived from 1877 to his death is now a National Historic Site (pictured). It includes a museum dedicated to his legacy and is open all year round.

Quotables Edit


Here are some quotations from the speeches and writings of Frederick Douglass.

"The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous."

“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”

“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”

“Woman should have every honorable motive to exertion which is enjoyed by man, to the full extent of her capacities and endowments…Nature has given woman the same powers, and subjected her to the same earth, breathes the same air, subsists on the same food, physical, moral, mental and spiritual. She has, therefore, an equal right with man, in all efforts to obtain and maintain a perfect existence.”

“[The identity of my father] is shrouded in a mystery I have never been able to penetrate. Slavery has no use for either fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their existence in the social arrangements of the plantation.”

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Personalities Edit


Massachusetts abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison helped launch Frederick Douglass’s career as a lecturer, author, and activist. At first the two were close friends and allies, but a dispute over how slavery should end drove them apart.

Garrison was just 26 years old when he founded a weekly newspaper called The Liberator. Garrison opposed slavery with a tremendous emotional passion; in The Liberator’s first issue, he declared, “I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

Garrison became Douglass’s mentor almost as soon as the two met in 1841. But soon, Douglass began disagreeing with some of Garrison’s more radical views.

For example, Garrison believed that the entire U.S. Constitution was a pro-slavery document. Calling it “a covenant with death,” he once even publicly burned a copy of it on the Fourth of July! He felt that abolition could not be accomplished through the political process, and urged his supporters not to vote. And if all else failed, Garrison thought the North should secede from the Union!

Douglass’s attitudes were far more reasonable. He believed that the Constitution could be “wielded on behalf of emancipation,” and that dissolving the Union was impractical. In 1851, when Douglass urged the readers of his newspaper to engage in politics, Garrison and his supporters began launching vicious attacks at him. Not even Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, could heal the rift between the two abolitionists.

Did You Know Edit


When Frederick Douglass published his autobiography, critics doubted that a former slave could write so eloquently. Most slaves were illiterate, since Southern law prohibited whites from educating them. So the book began with two prefaces—one by William Lloyd Garrison, the other by abolitionist Wendell Phillips—swearing that Douglass wrote the book himself, and that it was all true!

In the book, Douglass explained how he learned to read. He learned the alphabet from his owner’s wife, when he lived in Baltimore as a boy. After her husband stopped her, Douglass began giving bread to poor white kids from his neighborhood in exchange for reading lessons.

Douglass would practice shaping letters on fence posts, walls, and patches of ground. He’d challenge local kids to “writing contests,” and try to pick up as much as he could from them. And when his owners left him home alone, he’d copy passages from the dictionary, and do exercises from their son’s old schoolbooks.

Douglass’s favorite book was a volume called The Columbian Orator. It was a schoolbook designed to teach the principles of persuasive speaking and writing, and it contained a number of different speeches and dialogues. One was an imagined conversation between a runaway slave and his owner, in which the slave convinces his master to free him.

“The dialogue and the speeches were all redolent of the principles of liberty, and poured floods of light on the nature and character of slavery,” Douglass wrote. He loved the book so much that he brought it with him when he escaped to the North!

Way Back When Edit


As soon as the Civil War broke out, Frederick Douglass urged the U.S. Government to allow African-American troops to fight for the Union Army. “A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it,” he wrote.

However, African Americans didn’t enter the Army until 1863, after Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. That year, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first black regiment since the Revolutionary War, was formed. (In reality, it wasn’t 100 percent African-American—the commanding officers were white men, most of them from prominent abolitionist families.)

Fighting in the war was especially dangerous for African-American soldiers; if captured by the Confederacy, they would be enslaved or killed. But Douglass enthusiastically recruited soldiers for the regiment, and two of his sons fought in it.

The 54th distinguished itself in July 1863, when it led an assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, SC. The attack was unsuccessful, but the men displayed tremendous bravery, and Sgt. William H. Carney became the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor. The battle inspired many African Americans to join the Army, which President Lincoln claimed was a key factor in the North’s eventual victory.

If you’re interested in learning more about the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, check out a movie called Glory. Released in 1989, it won three Oscars, and stars Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman as members of the regiment.

FYI Comic Edit


Primary Source Edit

Oration by Frederick Douglass Delivered on the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1876. Library of Congress.

Memorial, Lincoln Park, Washington, DC. Photographed by U.S. Government, 2009.

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