Frederick Douglass Fights For Liberating Many Others Through His Newspapers

Arthur Smith asked:

In a June 28, 1879 issue of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Frederick Douglass who had risen from slavery to be one of the foremost abolitionist leaders and campaigners who fought to end slavery within the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War was described as ” among the greatest men, not only of this city, but of the nation as well – great in gifts, greater in utilizing them, great in his inspiration, greater in his efforts for humanity, great in the persuasion of his speech, greater in the purpose that informed it.” It emphasized that his success arose in defiance of the hindrances placed on his way by his country. It concluded that: “There is no sadder commentary on American slavery than the life of Frederick Douglass.” But indeed as the paper goes on, ‘the conquering might of freemen such as Douglass have ensured that no repetition occurs of such a sad chapter and that through the unbridling of his lips he became the deliverer of his people. For his voice was eloquent in the midst of other voices in proclaiming their emancipation.

Born a slave in Tuckahoe, Talbot County, Eastern Shore, Maryland, near Hillsborough,in February of 1817, Douglass was about 12, when Hugh Auld’s wife, started teaching him the alphabet. Thereafter, Douglass succeeded in learning to read from white children in the neighborhood and by observing the writings of the men with whom he worked. When Hugh Auld discovered this, he strongly disapproved, saying that if a slave learned to read, he would become dissatisfied with his condition and desire freedom; This far from frightening him being for Douglass the first anti-abolitionist speech he had ever heard stirred a great urge in him to equip himself well for his education and eventual liberation.

In 1833, Thomas Auld took Douglass back from his brother but unable to put up with Douglas’s rebellious spirit, he sent Douglass to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who was a notorious “slave-breaker,” for a year to have him tamed. There Douglass was regularly flogged. Douglass was nearly broken down psychologically by his ordeal, but he finally rebelled. Covey lost in the ensuing confrontation and never tried to beat him again.

He successfully escaped slavery on September 3, 1838, boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland, dressed in a sailor’s uniform and carrying identification papers provided by a free black seaman. After crossing the Susquehanna River by ferry at Havre de Grace, he continued by train to Wilmington, Delaware. From there he went by steamboat to “Quaker City” – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He eventually arrived in New York.

Douglass joined various organizations in New Bedford, Massachusetts, including a black church. He regularly attended abolitionist meetings. He subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly journal, The Liberat and in 1841, he heard Garrison speak at a meeting of the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society. Unexpectedly asked to speak, Douglass told his story and was thereupon encouraged to become an anti-slavery lecturer. Douglass was inspired by Garrison,and Garrison was likewise impressed with Douglass, and wrote of him in The Liberator.

A brilliant speaker, Douglass on the request of the American Anti-Slavery Society engaged in lecture tours which brought him recognition as one of America’s first great black speakers and won world fame when his autobiography was published in 1845.

A firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, American Indian, or recent immigrant, Douglass devoted his life to advocating the brotherhood of all humankind. He was firmly committed to always unite with others to do right and not wrong. He soon became one of the most effective orators of his day, an influential newspaper editor and a militant reformer.

Douglass’ best-known work is his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845 to generally positive reviews. It became an immediate bestseller. Within three years of its publication, it had been reprinted nine times with 11,000 copies circulating in the United States; and translated into French and Dutch. At the time, some skeptics were questioning whether a black man could have produced such an eloquent piece of literature. Douglass’ friends and mentors fearing that the publicity would draw the attention of his ex-owner who might try to get his “property” back, encouraged him to tour Ireland, as many other former slaves had done. Douglass then set sail on the Cambria for Liverpool on August 16, 1845, and arrived in Ireland as the Irish Potato Famine was beginning. Douglass spent two years in Great Britain and Ireland giving several highly successful lectures, mainly in Protestant churches or chapels, some “crowded to suffocation.”

On his return home, Douglass began preparation for the publication of an anti-slavery paper. He realised with disappointment that several journals edited by Negroes one of which Douglass himself aided had gone out of circulation. So Douglass aimed to establish a paper that would be appearing regularly and remain in constant service as ‘a powerful evidence that the Negro was too much of a man to be held a chattel.’ Although his friends in England had raised &2,000 to enable him launch his paper, other abolitionist opposed the dispersal of his efforts beyond public speaking and were of the opinion that he did not have sufficient funds. Douglass only momentarily stalled his plans in difference to his mentors and colleagues.

But this was not to be stalled for long. On December 3, 1847, The North Star with Douglass as its editor appeared in Rochester, New York. Its proclaimed objective was ‘to attack slavery in all its forms and aspects, advance Universal Emancipation, exact the standard of public morality, promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the colored people, and to hasten the day of freedom to our three million enslaved fellow countrymen.’

His paper became established as one of the outstanding anti-slavery papers in the North and one of the few to last for quite a long time. But throughout its long existence the paper edited by a man who had spent the first twenty first years of his life in slavery became a living proof of the potentialities of a people enthralled and the perfect answer to the question as to whether fugitive slaves who came North “do not necessarily become thieves or paupers.” The most effective work for emancipation was accomplished through his paper than through any other medium, even speaking in which area he was most accomplished.

Douglass’s tireless work and the assistance he received from a few devoted friends in America and England enable his paper to survive teething financial constraints. Douglass would often depart on lecture tours to raise funds whenever funds were running out. Whilst on such tours he would supply the paper detailed account by means of editorial correspondences. Gerrit Smith, a wealthy anti-slavery leader in New York and several other friends also came forward with contributions. Julia Griffiths of the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society sponsored fairs and published Autographs for Freedom, a gift book consisting of Abolitionist poems, letters, essays and extracts from famous speeches.

In 1851, he merged the North Star with Gerrit Smith’s Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass’ Paper, which was published until 1860. Douglass eventually became the publisher of a series of newspapers: The North Star, Frederick Douglass Weekly, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, Douglass’ Monthly and New National Era..”

By the time of the Civil War, Douglass was one of the most famous black men in the country, known for his oratories on the condition of the black race,and for his publications .

Douglass wrote about this in his newspapers declaring his thoughts and how the war was indeed for the liberation of the slaves.Douglass like the abolitionists argued that the aim of the war was to end slavery and that African Americans should be allowed to engage in the fight for their freedom. On the night of December 31, 1862, when President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass describes the spirit of those waiting for the announcement: “We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky…we were watching…by the dim light of the stars for the dawn of a new day…we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries.”

Once the slaves were freed, Douglass also wanted equality for his people as well.
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