Historical Abolitionist of the Month: Frederick Douglass

By Emily Balan

The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we will profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our historical abolitionist of the month is Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland 1817. In 1838 he escaped to Massachusetts and became a prominent voice against slavery.

He published an autobiography on his experiences as a slave in 1845, despite his fear that it would put him at risk of being forced back into servitude. In 1847 he officially became a free man and dedicated his life to eradicating slavery.

Douglass built a reputation as a great orator. In one speech he named slavery “the great sin and shame of America.” In his most famous speech on the hypocrisy of American slavery, he pointed out the paradox of Independence Day: America declared every man had aright to liberty while at the same time enslaving millions of people.

“I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” – Frederick Douglass, July 4, 1852

Douglass also published an abolitionist newspaper called The North Star, directed the Underground Railroad in upstate New York that led slaves to sanctuary in Canada, and worked to end racial segregation in Rochester’s public schools. He viewed the U.S. Constitution as a tool to end slavery and his work greatly influenced the passage of the 13th Amendment.

Douglass knew that liberty is an inherent right for all people. His words still resonate, as thousands of people are trafficked for involuntary servitude in the United States today. Estimates put at least 20 million people enslaved worldwide. Awareness and action, as Douglass says below, are crucial for ending modern day slavery.

“It is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.” – Frederick Douglass, July 4, 1852

Frederick Douglass’s great-great-great-grandson, Kenneth B. Morris, took up his ancestor’s legacy to advocate against modern day slavery. He will be our featured contemporary abolitionist next week.


Published on March 13, 2015


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