Arguably one of the greatest Americans of all time is Frederick Douglass. His contributions to the greater good place him in the pantheon of the most influential Americans, which includes Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mark Twain. However, what distinguishes Mr. Douglass from everyone else in this group is how he rose from such bleak circumstances into a renowned icon freedom and social reform.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 in Maryland and separated from his family at a young age. Mr. Douglass secretly taught himself how to read and write before becoming a teenager. As a teenager Mr. Douglass taught other slaves to read and write; however, these weekly lessons were permanently broken up by slaveholders who felt threatened by educated slaves. For six months Mr. Douglass was able spread the power of language to the people who were being deprived of the written word. We will never know how many people this influenced but the multiplying effect of knowledge can never be underestimated.
At the age of sixteen Mr. Douglass was sent to a “slave-breaker” who mercilessly beat on him, which almost destroyed him mentally. However, Mr. Douglass eventually stood up to this sadistic slave owner which put a stop to the brutality.
Mr. Douglass had tried unsuccessfully a few times to escape from slavery. At the age of 20 he succeeded in throwing off the shackles of slavery by making his way to the Free State of Pennsylvania. It was a difficult and dangerous journey that succeeded because of help from Anna Murray, a free black woman who Mr. Douglass wed shortly after escaping.
At the age of 27 Mr. Douglass published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave – twenty years before the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States. The book quickly became a bestseller and was translated into Dutch and French. The book received good reviews but critics questioned whether a black man could write so well.
Mr. Douglas became an abolitionist leader through his writings and speeches. His oratory skills were so good that some found it hard to believe that he was once a slave. Mr. Douglass firmly believed in equality from everyone, which included Native Americans, women, immigrants and anyone else.
An interesting and little-known fact about Mr. Douglass is that was the most photographed American in the 19th century. He deliberately set out to use the power of portrait photography to undermine racism by showing a black man on his terms and not through the lens of bigotry. These ten quotes demonstrate the power and timelessness of the words of Frederick Douglas.
1.) “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
2.) “Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”
3.) “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
4.) “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
5.) “The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”
6.) “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.”
7.) “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.”
8.) “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
9.) “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.”
10.) “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
Author: Phil Zavackis
Phil Zavackis is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He has recently finished a screenplay titled ‘105 Degrees & Rising’, which is about the Fall of Saigon in 1975. https://www.quora.com/profile/Phil-Zavackis/blogs