Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland, and given the name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.
Under slavery, he was a field hand, a servant, and an apprentice in the caulking trade. Fifteen of his relatives were sold into the deep South during his years as a slave, but one uncle and aunt escaped to the North, perhaps serving as an inspiration to him.
When he was twenty years old, Douglass escaped to New York City by train and boat and there married a free African-American woman by the name of Anna Murray, whom he had met in Baltimore. They moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he planned to work as a caulker.
In 1839 he heard William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and other abolitionist speakers, and he became directly involved in the abolitionist movement. After a 3,500 mile lecture tour demonstrated both his stamina and oratorical skills, he was hired as a full–time lecturer.
Douglas went on to be a successful editor of his own newspaper, a prolific biographical writer of his experiences under slavery, a recruiter for black regiments during the Civil War, an advisor to Lincoln, a promoter of women’s suffrage, United States Marshal and later Recorder of Deeds for District of Columbia, the Charge’ d’Affaires for Santo Domingo, and a Minister to Haiti.
After his wife of forty–four years had died, he married Helen Pitts and moved to Rochester, New York, where he is buried.
For more details about Douglass’s very interesting and rich life, visit this National Park Service website, from which many of the details above were taken.
One special thread that runs through our definition of traditional monuments is the power of the individual to make a difference. In the case of Douglass, that power did not derive from wealth, an aristocratic and privileged lineage, or an elite education.
Where did Douglass’s power to make a difference come from, and how did he move from the anonymity of slavery to international recognition?
Are there any parallels between ex–slaves such as Douglass, telling their stories, and Holocaust survivors, such as Elie Wiesel, telling theirs? What are the differences in terms of both the individuals and the societies in which they lived or currently live?
In the overall introduction to the Traditional Monuments section, we raised the question of which individuals in our times might be (or have been) memorialized as special exemplars. Who has deeply influenced our times for the better, and what has been done to sustain remembrance of that accomplishment? Do we even have heroes who we can differentiated from celebrities?