Black History Month 2016 – Frederick Douglass

I was interested in Abraham Lincoln when I was growing up. He seemed to be someone that was in touch with the people, and some one who they could talk to. Along with who he was and his fight to abolish slavery both showed me his compassion for the rights of other people.

Abolitionist was kind of a weird word for me to understand when we were learning about slavery in school. I couldn’t tell which side they were on. I think it was confusion about the fact that they were fighting against slavery and angry with white people. Over the years I’ve been learning how much of our country’s history I don’t know, due to a definite slant on how it was told in history books. The idea of slavery was so unclear, because people didn’t want us to know what was being done to the slaves. I think this was one of the reasons I was drawn to blog on the subject of Black History Month, to try and get a better understanding.

In celebration of his birthday this week, I decided to focus my blog on Frederick Douglass, a human rights leader in the anti-slavery movement. He was also an intellectual adviser to United States presidents on causes including slavery, women’s rights and Irish Home Rule. Like I wrote about in the blog about Carter G. Woodson a couple of weeks ago, Douglass was also one of the key figures that Black History Month was started in honor of.

According to biography.com, he was born into slavery on a plantation in Eastern Maryland. Even though he was born in February, the actual day wasn’t always documented for slaves. He adopted February 14th as his birthday because his mother Harriet, who died when he was eight, called him her little valentine. He initially lived with his maternal Grandmother, Betty Bailey after his mother’s death, but at a young age, he was taken from his family to live in the homes of other plantation owners in the area, one of whom may have even been his father.

When he was sent to the Baltimore home of Hugh Auld, Douglass was taught the alphabet by Auld’s wife Sophia. When he found out that his wife was teaching the slaves to read, he forbade her to continue. This opened up the door for Douglass to want to learn more, which he did from the white children and others in the neighborhood. The start of his education at this point in his life would lead him to the successes that he would have later on.

It was through education and reading that Douglass’s ideological opposition to slavery began to take shape. He found more and more journals and newspapers to expand his knowledge. While he was hired out to William Freeland, he also started to share this information with other slaves and taught them how to read at weekly church services. Freeland didn’t mind, but other slave owners in the area did. Armed with clubs and stones, they dispersed the congregation permanently.

After that, he was sent to work for Edward Covey, who was known as a “slave breaker”. He worked his slaves really hard and with constant abuse. He almost broke the spirit of a then sixteen year old Douglass. One day, he did fight back against Covey and won. It was a definite turning point in his life. He relived that event in his first autobiography and said that Covey left him alone after that fight.

There were many stories of slave escapes. Some slaves even died trying to do it. Douglass had tried to escape slavery twice and failed twice. When he finally succeeded, he made it to a safe house in New York, married Anna Murray in 1838, and he began to attend abolitionist meetings where he met William Lloyd Garrison, a radical abolitionist. Garrison wrote a weekly journal called The Liberator that Douglass subscribed to. He began to share his experiences at the meetings and became a regular speaker. Garrison mentored Douglass and urged him to write his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845.

After the book was published, Douglass traveled overseas to Liverpool to evade recapture. He stayed there for two years during the potato famine in Ireland and spoke at different events about the evils of slavery. During this time, Douglass’s British supporters gathered funds to purchase his legal freedom. In 1847 he returned to the United States a free man.

While I was researching Douglass’ background, a connection between Douglass, Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe came to light. In an article on PBS.org, Garrison and Douglass were not getting along due to a difference of opinion, so Stowe thought she could try and help them to reconcile. Stowe wrote a letter to Garrison about her impressions of Douglass on December 19, 1853.  She believed that his convictions were based on “growth from the soil and his own mind.” Garrison believed that Douglass was disagreeing with him and just going along with the less radical abolitionists. Her hope to reconcile these two former friends would not be realized.

The fact that her family was so involved in the anti-slavery movement was also very interesting to me. Like Douglass, she also lost her mother as a young child. Her father was involved and his abolitionist attitude was reinforced in his children.

One more interesting thing about Stowe, according to HarrietBeecherStoweCenter.org, is why she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin,

I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice that I saw, as a Christian I felt dishonor to Christianity. As a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.

Stowe’s family was involved in the Underground Railroad and were helping slaves secure their freedom by hiding them in their own home on their way to Canada. Interesting how all of these people were connected by the anti-slavery movement. Stowe and Garrison were white and working towards abolishing slavery with Douglass.

After I came across this connection, I decided to add Uncle Tom’s Cabin to my reading list. Through all of the reading that I have done, I found that haven’t read it yet. I would like to see how Stowe tells the story. It is on hold at the library for me right now.

Writing is a journey. This year’s blogs have all taken on a mind and direction of their own. It has been fun to write them and see where they end up. For Black History Month, this entry brought a couple of white abolitionists to play roles in developing the main subject, Frederick Douglass. It was good to see that white people that were also fighting against slavery right along with the blacks. The way that discrimination has developed in our country has made it a strong black versus white issue. Looks like even some white Americans were trying to make things right.

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Selma P. Verde

Plans the jet set life for others as an aircraft scheduler by day and coordinates a family life for my fiancée, two kids and a dog by night. Writing is a passion that I can't let go of. I struggle to make time to write, but I keep plugging away at it. I have lived in Minnesota all of my life and continue to love the four seasons and ten thousand lakes the state is known for. Some of my favorite places to write and create are by many of those lakes. Be sure to look for my first published book, The Hard Way, on Amazon.com.

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