Frederick Douglass was a man that was full of wise words and he once said, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress,” and that defines his life and importance. Frederick Douglass, born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, a former slave who escaped and later went on to become one of the leading African American leaders of his time, as he became a “famous intellectual who advised presidents, gave lectures, was an early supporter of women’s rights”, and was an important figure within the abolitionist movement. As a matter of fact, the abolitionist movement was effective as a result of the leadership from Douglass.
Although a good portion of Douglass’ life was spent fighting against slavery, it arguably could not have been possible had he not had the experiece of being a slave himself. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland, where it was prohibited to teach slaves how to read and right, but thanks to his slave owners wife and later other children, learned how to read and write. After learning how to do such things, Frederick did not keep his newfound knowledge to himself, but instead, opted to teach others the gift. Unfortunately for Frederick, while the owners wife and other children had defied the law, other slave owners were not impressed with Douglass’ good deeds and would form together and “armed with clubs and stones,” would break up the teachings and furthermore, would permanently stop them from happening. Douglass would later be sold to Edward Covey, a slave owner who was known to be the “slave-breaker,” at the age of sixteen. Douglass was determined to defy that nickname and although abuse from Covey almost caused him to crack mentally, he fought back and would later write about it in his biography. As the reasoning for his nickname would start to show, Douglass would physically start to fight back, and after beating Covey in a physical confrontation, Covey never beat him again. After showing his defiance in not only breaking rules to learn to read and write, but also for fighting back against his master, Douglass would escape from slavery, which he would fail in twice, in 1838 with the help of his future wife, and already free woman, Anna Murray.
After his escape, Frederick and Anna would settle in Massachusetts and meet another free colored couple known as the Johnsons, who would give them the idea to change their surnames to Douglass. While Frederick and Anna settled and had five children together, it was also during this time that Douglass would start his path to becoming a member of the abolitionist movement. During the time that he attended the movement meetings, Douglass would come in contact with writings from William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist journalist. At a later meeting, the two men would meet, and after sharing his story of being a slave and escaping, Garrison encouraged Douglass to become a speaker and leader within the abolitionist movement. In 1843, five years after escaping slavery, Douglass became a member of the Anti Slavery Society and would take part in a tour with the group throughout the United States, and would be physically assaulted numerous times by those who opposed the movement. Some of the injuries that Frederick suffered in these attacks would never heal, for instance, after an attack in Indiana, Frederick would not have full use of his hand for the remainder of his life. Despite some not agreeing with his mission and being attacked on multiple occasions, Douglass kept fighting for what he thought was right and kept leading the charge for the dream he shared with Garrison.
Frederick Douglass knew that, although slavery was a thing of the South, the entire nation had to deal with and was involved with it. In 1852 on Independence Day, Douglass would give a speech in Rochester and questioned, “What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Douglass is pointing out the contradiction that the American people show when they celebrate the holiday, as they celebrate their freedom and ability to live and make their own decisions, while supporting a country that holds people hostage from doing the same thing. While most northerners did not even realize how hypocritical their holiday really was, Douglass called them out and, along with other abolitionist and slaves, looked at Independence Day as a fraudulent celebration for only people of a certain color and class.
As well as being an active force within the abolitionist movement, Douglass also supported Women’s Rights and championed for equal rights until his death. In July 1848, Douglass was invited to and attended the First Woman’s Rights Convention. Douglass would go on to write, “All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of a woman.” Douglass was not only fighting for just African American women’s rights either, but instead, was fighting for ALL women. Douglass was not just a leader for the people that he could relate to, he wanted the United States to follow its declaration and give all people the equal right to freedom, life, liberty, and happiness.
Frederick Douglass used his experience as a slave to speak out on slavery and to give it awareness in the North, something that another person in the position might not have been able to do. Douglass defined his leadership role by actively participating in bettering the cause, no matter the backlash that he faced, he pushed forward. Douglass used his abolitionist established platform to push other movements such as the Women’s Rights, and although not alive to see all of the effects, Douglass’ involvement helped propel Women’s Rights.