Black History Month

5 Things To Know About Frederick Douglass

You may have heard his name a new a few times this week.

February marks the beginning of Black History Month, an important time to recognize and remember prominent African-Americans like Frederick Douglass. His name hit the headlines again this week as part of an ongoing political conversation and a slight gaffe on the part of the president's administration, but remembering Douglass and his many accomplishments has nothing to do with politics, in truth — his work stands on its own.

Douglass, who died in 1895, is a dominant figure in the history of ending slavery and pushing for equal rights. Our country is forever changed because of him. So, without further adieu, here are 5 things you should know.


1. He was prolific.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies detailing his experience as a slave, perhaps none more famous than Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. The book, which eventually became a best-seller, was also widely credited with ushering in the abolitionist movement that eventually helped end slavery. His work was so influential and moving that people at the time questioned whether Douglass had actually written it, unsure if a slave could produce such work.  

An 1855 portrait of Douglass. Everett Historical / Shutterstock 

2. Some of what he talked about is still relevant today.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we published a list of the civil rights leader's quotes that are still relevant to questions America faces today. Similarly, someone could write a list of Douglass' words that we should still be using in 2017

He touched on voting rights: "Man is the only government-making animal in the world. His right to a participation in the production and operation of government is in inference from his nature, as direct and self-evident as is his right to acquire property or education."

Women's rights: "We should all see the folly and madness of attempting to accomplish with a part what could only be done with the united strength of the whole. Though his folly may be less apparent, it is just as real when one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the world is excluded from any voice or vote in civil government."

And even federal government's role in protecting individual liberties: "The arm of the Federal government is long, but it is far too short to protect the rights of individuals in the interior of distant States. They must have the power to protect themselves, or they will go unprotected, spite of all the laws the Federal Government can put upon the national statute-book."

3. Douglass and Abraham Lincoln had a close relationship.

Abraham Lincoln is widely known as the president that helped end slavery, and much of that history is tied closely to Douglass. He and Lincoln spoke often and Douglass is said to have consulted him during the Civil War. Lincoln invited him to the White House on three separate occasions. Though he criticized Lincoln often, he also praised and respected him. Lincoln "was emphatically the black man's President: the first to show any respect to their rights as men," Douglass wrote.

When Lincoln died, Mrs. Lincoln sent Douglass his walking stick as a memento. 

Frederick Douglass statue on January 6, 2013 in Harlem. Photo: Shutterstock / stockelements

4. Douglass' name is respected and revered on both sides of the aisle.

In a world of political polarization, it's tough to find people that unite the Democratic and Republican parties. But Douglass is one of those people.

Today, Douglass is Republicans and Democrats alike pay tribute to Douglass. Former Republican House speaker John Boehner described a statue of Douglass as "a fitting tribute to one of the greatest Americans and voices for freedom who ever lived."

5. Douglass also had a message about immigration.

This week, immigration has also been dominating the headlines in the wake of President Trump's executive orders. Coincidentally, Douglass had quite a bit to say about immigration and the role America should play in the world. 

"I hold that a liberal and brotherly welcome to all who are likely to come to the United States is the only wise policy which this nation can adopt," he wrote. "It has been thoughtfully observed that every nation, owing to its peculiar character and composition, has a definite mission in the world."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / stockelements.


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