Frederick Douglass: The Journey from Slave to Protest Leader.

By Barrett Gladstone

August, 1848.

It was a sweltering summer day in Seneca Falls, New York. The summer breeze traveled through the open Wesleyan church doors as 68 women and 32 men gathered to debate and advance the rights and power of women.1 Among them was Frederick Douglass, a slavery abolitionist and an avid supporter of these feminist movements.

Frederick Douglass was born in Maryland into slavery.2 As a young boy, Douglass was extremely passionate about education and reading, and his master’s wife taught him the alphabet and arithmetic.3 In his recent book, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Douglass states that his master did not agree with this education and instead believed that “He should know nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it. As to himself, learning will do him no good, but a great deal of harm, making him disconsolate and unhappy.”4 As a teenager, Douglass was able to flee slavery and ventured to New York to start a new life as a lowly factory worker.5 He became passionate about the local abolition and women’s rights movements, and eventually started careers in both public speaking and journalism. His recounts of his life in slavery and his journey to becoming an influential leader in the community have helped to unify and rally people throughout the Nation for necessity of change.

FrederickDouglass-1848-1
Figure 1. Photograph of Frederick Douglass. C. 1840s. (Wikipedia)

However, simply public speaking did not quench Frederick Douglass’s thirst for justice. His recently published newspaper, the North Star; a successful platform for reporting recent on abolition and women’s rights with a motto that writes “Right is of No Sex – Truth is of No Color – God is the Father of Us All, and All we are Brethren”6, has become a public symbol of hope and change among many who do not have a voice in this righteous country. In a recent article regarding the Seneca Falls Convention, Douglass declared that “All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land.”7 As the only male present at the Convention who agreed with the notion that women should have the right to vote, female leaders at the conference including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony gained great respect for his compassion and strength. Douglass gave the final speech at the Conference, discussing his role for change and his support for female activists.8 It seems likely that Douglass’s boldness in ignoring his manhood for the good of this cause was a surprise to many present at Seneca Falls.

As the first congregation of women’s rights activists, the Seneca Falls conference debated and created a “Declaration of Sentiments” to unify ideas and provide motivation for this cause.9 This declaration includes observations on the history of constant mistreatment and imbalance of power for women, as well as the lack of representation and rights that women have to participate in governmental affairs. The purpose of the document is to highlight these sad truths, and to commit to making people notice, forcing change, and embracing everyone.

p_seneca_falls3

Figure 2. First Signatures of Declaration of Sentiments. 1848. (PBS)

However, this event marks the beginning of a long and treacherous journey, as many members of society were verbally harassed and/or looked down upon for attending. The few men who went to the conference risked being called “Aunt Nancy men” and “Hermaphrodites” and even have been seen as ‘less than men.’10 The setbacks are great and the successes are few, but passion and change are forming as Douglass confirms that he “shall fearlessly assert your rights, faithfully proclaim your wrongs, and earnestly demand for your instant even handed justice.”11 As a country consumed in tradition, is the United States of America capable of extreme social change? What happens when the silenced use their voices and speak up to greater society? Frederick Douglass is leading the movement of change, and will continue to push boundaries and speak the honest truth to gain equality and representation for all in America. Can he achieve this?

Notes
1. “Seneca Falls Convention” PBS. Found at
http://www.pbs.org/stantonanthony/resources/index.html?body=seneca_falls.html. (accessed May 2017).
2. Douglass, Frederick, and Henry Louis Gates. Life and times of Frederick Douglass. 1827. Pg.94-97. Quoted in; Bailey, Thomas A. and Kennedy, David M. The American Spirit. D.C. Heath and Company, 1994. Print.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. “Frederick Douglass.” National Parks Service. (Accessed April, 2017) https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/frederick-douglass.htm.
6. Ed. Douglass Frederick and Delany, M. R. The North Star, June 2, 1848. Found on African American Odyssey Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/odyssey/archive/02/0210001r.jpg
7. Ed. Douglass, Frederick. North Star, 1848. Quoted in “Frederick Douglass.” National Parks Service. (Accessed April, 2017) https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/frederick-douglass.htm.
8. “Seneca Falls Convention” PBS. Found at http://www.pbs.org/stantonanthony/resources/index.html?body=seneca_falls.html. (accessed May 2017).
9. Ibid.
10. Walker, Jay S. “Frederick Douglass and Woman Suffrage.” The Black Scholar. 4, no. 6/7 (1973): 24-31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41163793. (accessed May 2017).
11. Douglass, Frederick. [Masthead]. North Star December 3, 1847. Quoted in Thompson, Julius E., Dawson, Nancy J., and Conyers Jr., James L. The Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia. California: Greenwood, 2010. Found on questia at https://www.questiaschool.com/library/120085056/the-frederick-douglass-encyclopedia (accessed May 2017).

Bibliography
Chesebrough, David B. Frederick Douglass: Oratory From Slavery. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998. Found on questia at https://www.questiaschool.com/library/117874307/frederick-douglass-oratory-from-slavery (accessed May 2017).
Thompson, Julius E., Dawson, Nancy J., and Conyers Jr., James L. The Frederick Douglass
Encyclopedia. California: Greenwood, 2010. Found on questia at https://www.questiaschool.com/library/120085056/the-frederick-douglass-encyclopedia (accessed May 2017).
Walker, Jay S. “Frederick Douglass and Woman Suffrage.” The Black Scholar. 4, no. 6/7 (1973): 24-31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41163793. (accessed May 2017).
Darrah, Denise. “Frederick Douglass, Supporter of Equal Rights for All People.” Counterpoints 406 (2012): 151-62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42981626. (accessed May 2017).
Quarles, Benjamin. “Frederick Douglass and the Woman’s Rights Movement.” The Journal of Negro History 25, no. 1 (1940): 35-44. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2714400 (accessed May 2017).
“Seneca Falls Convention” PBS. Found at
http://www.pbs.org/stantonanthony/resources/index.html?body=seneca_falls.html. (accessed May 2017).
“Frederick Douglass.” National Parks Service. (Accessed April, 2017)
https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/frederick-douglass.htm.
“Frederick Douglass on Woman Suffrage.” Blackpast.org, 2007. Found at
http://www.blackpast.org/1888-frederick-douglass-woman-suffrage (accessed May 2017).
Gorn,Elliott J. Roberts, Randy. Bilhartz, Terry D. Constructing the American Past: A Source Book of a People’s History. 2nd Ed Volume 1.  HarperCollins College Publishers. 1995. Print.
Douglass, Frederick, and Henry Louis Gates. Life and times of Frederick Douglass. 1827.
Pg.94-97. Quoted in; Bailey, Thomas A. and Kennedy, David M. The American Spirit. D.C. Heath and Company, 1994. Print.

Image Sources

http://www.pbs.org/stantonanthony/resources/index.html?body=seneca_falls.html

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